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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Hey, GOP! Want to Retake SD's House Seat? Recruit Herseth!

Representative Herseth proves again that she's really a Republican. In the wee hours this morning, she voted Aye with 33 other "Democrats" to support the GOP's cynical effort to slash the estate tax for its wealthy constituents. The GOP threw in a minimum-wage increase as political cover, and Rep. Herseth went along with them.

So instead of putting its hopes on its own candidate for the House, why doesn't the GOP court Stephanie? She's voted with them on the estate tax, gay marriage, and other issues; why not get her to switch to the party that her voting record better reflects?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Beetle Beadle Days....

Biking through town yesterday on a fruitless mission to find some new painting sandals, I rode down Main Street and noticed a banner on one of the Four Corners bars. The banner announced the specials and activities the bar is offering in conjunction with Crazy Days -- oh, but wait, someone involved in community marketing decided that Madison's version of the usual small-town summer festival of sales and other merriment needed a different, more distinguishing name. "Crazy" perhaps has fallen out of favor due to its politically incorrect undertones. It also is the name used by a hundred other towns for their weekends of sidewalk sales and kiddie tractor pulls, so it's not terribly useful in helping Madison build its brand (and if this town can just build a brand, then all our dreams will come true, the Lake Area Improvement Corporation tells us). Thus, Crazy Days has been renamed Beadle Days, in honor of local historic figure General William Henry Harrison Beadle.

But back to the banner: Evidently the bar owner isn't pulling together as a team player with the rest of the community. The banner reads "Beetle Days." The community marketing folks dedicated to creating these cool marketing campaigns must groan when they see that banner. And I'll admit -- even I as an English teacher groan at such apparent miscommunication and misspelling. At a bare minimum, good marketing demands understanding exactly which words we are supposed to use. Obviously that's not happening with this latest bright idea. Besides this amusing misspelling, shop windows and newspaper ads show the general confusion as to whether the weekend event is still Crazy Days. Where "Beadle" was supposed to be a unifying term, it appears to have ended up just thrown in the mix with the other labels used for the event.

Whoever screwed up -- the bar owner in not double-checking the order and recognizing the possible misunderstanding of the ambiguous word "Beadle", local businesses for not paying attention to updates from the Chamber of Commerce, maybe the Chamber itself for picking a term so easily misunderstood -- we need to make sure all the local merchants get the memo and get their advertising materials right.

Positive Economics: A Hypothesis on Reliance on Out-of-Town Dollars

Economics is divided into two fields: positive and normative. I usually spend my time in normative economics, thinking and arguing about how our economy -- local, national, and global -- should be structured. Positive economics is merely descriptive economics, analysis of how the economy is structured. You can't do good normative economics without good positive economics.
So here I offer a mere observation on why our local economy works the way it does. I've compained before about how Madison's marketing efforts focus on tourism, on drawing out-of-town dollars. I've suggested that we might build a more stable local economy if we focused on building local industries that serve local needs. However, it hit me why that model would not necessarily provide the economic growth that our fearless leaders want. Madison's wages, like wages throughout South Dakota, are significantly below the national average. We don't have a lot of high-salary jobs. We have lots of farmers who aren't even protected by minimum-wage laws. We thus don't have a lot of workers with expendable income to pour into the local economy in the first place. We have more workers who must pinch pennies and shop at Wal-Mart to keep their costs down. To get economic growth, we need to import wages from elsewhere, from folks in Sioux Falls and across the border in Minnesota who do have high-wage jobs that give them the freedom to travel and spend more money. Our own workers, on the wages we pay them, can't support strong economic growth, so we have to borrow the buying power of workers from states with higher wages. When we do import those wages, we still don't experience enormous growth -- tourism and entertainment jobs pay below-average wages to most of their workers -- but we get at least a little economic boost that our own wage base can't provide.

Like I said, this observation is only positive economics, not normative economics. Given the situation, I can at least understand why South Dakota puts so much emphasis on trying to draw tourists. However, I wonder: could we get an equal economic boost by diverting our tourism-promotion dollars into some sort of wage-support program? Here and there we could find advertising dollars that could be diverted into local paychecks. The City of Madison, for instance, instead of forking out $100,000 a year to the Lake Area Improvement Corporation to market Madison could instead give 50 city employees a $1000 raise. The state could cut back its budget for the Department of Tourism and give more property tax rebates. Or the state could really think big, increase the minimum wage, and businesses could enjoy the trickle-up economic impact of workers in the state having more money to spend at local businesses. Such wage increases seem to offer a more reliable source of economic growth than the gamble of advertising for tourist dollars. But as long as an economy's wages remain low, it must rely on somehow importing dollars from wage earners in more profitable places.

LAIC: Earn Your Keep

Yesterday's (2006.07.26) Madison Daily Leader offers the headline "LAIC Wants More Money." Yes, our friends at the Lake Area Improvement Corporation think they need $30,000 more from the city to do more facilitating and strategizing and all the other tasks that marketers do. I think we'd get as much satisfaction and enjoyment from flushing 30,000 one-dollar bills down a toilet and watching them spin into oblivion.

However, knowing the LAIC will tell us that we must grow or die, and that the only way to grow is to market, I offer the following suggestion: Sure, the LAIC can have $30,000 more in next year's budget, but first, they have to prove that they have brought twice that much revenue into the city coffers in the last year. $30,000 from the city would be the product of $1.5 million in sales (taxed by the city at 2%). Of course, the LAIC shouldn't get every penny of increased revenue -- increased tax revenue is supposed to help us pave streets and fund the library, not simply keep churning out more banners and slogans for our town. 50% of any provable revenue increase is a more than reasonable commission. Thus, for every dollar more that LAIC wants in its budget, it should have to prove that its efforts (not luck, not good weather, not national economic trends, but LAIC's own marketing campaigns) have generated an additional $100 of economic activity in Madison. LAIC's $30,000 budget increase would only be justified if LAIC could show $3 million in increased local economic activity.

If the LAIC wants us to live by the mantra of marketing, the LAIC should also have to live by the rules of business and good government: you want more money, you show us results. Indexing LAIC's funding to its proven performance should have the same positive impact on productivity and efficiency that it does in the private enterprises LAIC is promoting.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Herseth Supports Gay Marriage Ban; Progressives Wonder Where to Turn

Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth was one of 34 Democrats to vote for House Joint Resolution 88, proposing a Constitutional amendment restricting marriage to unions between one man and one woman. The amendment failed the July 18 vote 236-187.

To express my disappointment with Representative Herseth's un-Democratic vote, I e-mailed her the following comments:

Dear Representative Herseth:

A couple weeks ago, a young woman named Cassie called me on behalf of the South Dakota Democratic Party to talk up your achievements in Congress and solicit money so you could continue to fight against the Republican majority. I asked the caller why I should support a Democrat who associates herself with the Blue Dog conservatives and talks and votes like a Republican on numerous issues. Poor Cassie, who apparently was a new trainee in the party office, said she didn't know about that.

If Cassie calls again, I will direct her attention to your vote on HJ Res 88, proposing a constitutional amendment relating to marriage. My wife and I are both registered Democrats, and we want to vote for legislators who will fight for a truly progressive agenda. How can we do that when you vote like a Republican? Why not take a stand on this unnecessary, discriminatory, and dangerous amendment and make the effort to persuade South Dakotans that issues like gay marriage have nothing to do real family values like supporting working parents, teaching kids, and providing affordable health care for all ages? You don't have to pander to the yahoos of the religious right who are trying to co-opt Christianity as well as American politics. Make a stand; be the progressive thinker that South Dakota needs (and that progressives like us are aching to hear speaking for us in the public arena).

With sincere longing for a real Democrat....

I'll let you know if she responds....