Author Archives: James A. Bacon

Which Would You Prefer: Pipelines or Trucks?

Scania LNG trucks

Don’t like gas pipelines? Maybe you’ll like LNG trucks better.

As the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline endure the legal agonies of the damned here in Virginia — the odds are increasing that neither will be built — a Pennsylvania company has begun liquefying natural gas for delivery by tractor-trailer.

Edge Gathering Virtual Pipelines 2 LLC began well-site production of LNG and making truck-delivered LNG sales in May. States a company press release: “Without the need for pipeline access, EDGE expects to make LNG a viable and competitive physical energy solution for end-use consumers and gas utilities across the U.S.”

Within the next year, EDGE expects to obtain and deploy a fleet of LNG-fueled tractors, to make customer deliveries even more cost effective. Continue reading

War Wounds, Lost Income and the Reparations Debate

Benjamin Franklin, Civil War amputee. Source: Pinterest

As the reparations issue heats up across the country — Congressional Democrats are considering forming a commission on reparations, reports the New York Times — it’s just a matter of time before the divisive debate comes to Virginia. The Old Dominion, after all, was a slave state and a segregationist state. We have a history of racism and discrimination to grapple with that, say, Minnesota or New Hampshire do not.

Personally, I find the idea of holding individuals accountable for long-ago sins committed by members of the same race to be a moral obscenity. But as an amateur historian, I find the debate fascinating. The controversy should dredge up loads of intriguing material as Americans trace the impact of slavery and segregation and the efforts to ameliorate that impact.

Here is a study that you won’t hear cited by the reparations brigade: “The Impact of a Wartime Health Shock on the Postwar Socioeconomic Status and Mortality of Union Army Veterans and their Children.” The authors did not research the paper with reparations in mind. Rather, they were tracing the impact of disability on earnings and wealth in an economy dominated by farming and manual labor. But the findings bear upon the reparations debate. In any moral reckoning over the legacy of slavery, one must consider that 620,000 soldiers died from combat, disease and other causes in the Civil War. Even if we assign zero value to the deaths of Confederate soldiers in the war to end slavery, surely we must take into account the loss of 360,000 Union soldiers (who were, for purposes of the reparations debate, overwhelmingly white). Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Keeping the Political Class on its Toes

Cranky strikes again. John Butcher does another deep dive into Richmond Public School statistics, comparing the capital city’s school system with the schools in peer cities of Norfolk, Hampton and Newport News. Richmond spends $2,887 more per student than the state average, and it spends $1,659 more on instructional expenses. Yet somehow, the district supports fewer instructional positions per 100 students and pays teachers and principals less. And, as Butcher has amply demonstrated before, disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students in Richmond under-perform their disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged peers in other urban-core localities by wide margins.

How about the indignity of attending lousy schools? But never fear, Richmond school administrators are au current with the latest in politically correct virtue signaling. As reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond schools started requiring graduating students to wear gender-neutral gaps and gowns this year, ending a decades-long practice of having separate colors for men and women. Explained Superintendent Jason Kamras: “We want to make sure out transgender and nonbinary students don’t have to suffer the indignity of being forced to express their gender in a manner contrary to their identity.”

Big subsidies for big data. Virginia is home to 159 data centers that benefited from $417.5 million in sales-and-use tax exemptions from mid-2010 through mid-2017, according to estimates from a new Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission report. JLARC deems the state subsidies to have been “relatively effective” and generate “moderate economic benefits.” It is reasonable for the state to continue the exemption, concluded JLARC. However, the tax break does not appear to have stimulated growth in distressed areas. Continue reading

How Crime-Prone Students Worsen Educational Outcomes for Everyone

Exposure to crime-prone students in school has “large and significant” effects on test scores, school discipline and even adult criminal behavior, finds a new study by Stephen B. Billings and Mark Hoekstra published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Exposure to crime-prone peers in the same neighborhood also has an effect, but the negative influence is far stronger in the school setting.

“We estimate that a five percentage point increase in school and neighborhood crime-prone peers increases arrest rates at age 19-21 by 6.5 and 2.6 percent respectively,” state the authors in “Schools Neighborhoods, and the Long-Run Effect of Crime-Prone Peers.” 

Billings and Hoekstra stick to the narrow issue of establishing the correlation between “crime-prone peers” and students’ cognitive and behavioral outcomes, but the study is sure to influence the debate over school disciplinary policies. If students displaying anti-social behavior are kept in school as part of the therapeutic disciplinary regime now in vogue, one can predict negative spillover effects on fellow students.
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The Deep State as Competitive Economic Advantage

Stephen Moret’s sales pitch to the Amazon in the HQ2 deal offered an analysis that was both acute and chilling — acute if you’re an economic developer seeking to promote Northern Virginia as a place for tech companies to do business, chilling if you are an American worried about the growing overlordship of the technocratic elite.

According to Luke Mullins’ Washingtonian article, “The Real Story of How Virginia Won Amazon’s HQ2,” Virginia’s proposal to Amazon highlighted Northern Virginia’s proximity to the Pentagon and other federal agencies. Writes Mullins:

By plopping HQ2 into Crystal City — right next door to the Pentagon — its employees could become part of the Washington community, attending backyard barbecues and school dance recitals with the very regulatory staffers and procurement officials whose decisions will determine the company’s future — as the very journalists and political strategists who might paint the firm as an Evil Empire. Continue reading

How Moret and Moretti Won the Amazon Deal

Enrico Moretti

Everybody who pays attention to economic development in Virginia knows by now who Stephen Moret is. He is the Louisianan, recruited to turn around the Virginia Economic Development Partnership and rethink the state’s economic development strategy, who landed the Amazon HQ2 deal. Few are familiar, however, with the theoritician behind the practitioner, a man with a near-identical last name — Enrico Moretti.

Bacon’s Rebellion readers learned of Moretti, a Berkeley University professor, when I reviewed his book, “The New Geography of Jobs,” back in 2012. Moretti’s analysis of the primacy of labor markets in the Knowledge Economy — metropolitan areas with deeper, richer labor markets enjoy a tremendous competitive advantage in competing for both corporate investment and skilled/educated workers — has informed my economic-development commentary ever since.

Well, it turns out that Moret is a big fan of Moretti. Indeed, when fashioning a new economic development strategy for Virginia, Moret engaged Moretti for input. That insight emerges from an excellent article in the Washingtonian by Luke Mullins, “The Real Story of how Amazon Won Amazon’s HQ2.” Mullins’ article provides the most incisive reporting on how Virginia won HQ2 that I have yet seen. Continue reading

A Nonprofit Insider’s View on Child Nutrition

Last week I asked the question how, given our nation’s’ extensive social safety net, it is possible that children in Virginia go hungry and suffer from malnutrition. Are government support payments deficient? Are food deserts to blame? Do people squander their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) stipends? Is something else going on? The explanations we hear from the usual sources don’t seem to add up.

That piece triggered a response from Robin Mathews, who worked with recipients of SNAP and WIC programs as an employee in the nonprofit sector for several years. “I feel like I’ve seen just about all,” she says. Here are key points she makes in response to specific questions I raised in the post. (I have reproduced her comments here with light editing.)

Eligibility for SNAP. Unemployment rates are low but the income guidelines are stringent; a single parent with two children working full time at Amazon earning $15 an hour would not qualify for SNAP or WIC so these programs may be intended to supplement the “working poor” families.

Could single mothers’ budgets be stretched by live-in boyfriends who don’t qualify for food stamps? Of course, but what I see more often in public and subsidized housing is the “live in” who is not always a boyfriend but a “boarder” who has income (sometimes from selling drugs and guns) to pay for items not covered by SNAP and contributes this in exchange for the room and board/food he receives from the recipient who is eligible. Continue reading

Remembering Fathers from the Greatest Generation


by Peter Galuszka

A few days ago, Bacon’s Rebellion featured a tribute to the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy. The critically important invasion opened up a second front against Nazi Germany, leading to its defeat and the end of its terror.

This weekend, I propose another commemoration – that of the 75th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Saipan in the Pacific Ocean. It is also a Father’s Day tribute of sorts that has links to Bacons Rebellion.

Saipan is in the Mariana Islands in the Central Pacific. Admiral Chester Nimitz wanted to seize the islands for air bases from which aircraft could bomb the Japanese mainland and. The Marianas also could serve as a staging ground for the eventual invasion of Japan.

On June 15, 1944, an invasion force led by the U.S. Marine Corps attacked Saipan after days of bombardment. The campaign would run until July 9 and would cost the lives of more than 29,000 troops on both sides. Continue reading

The Health Care Crisis: We Have Met the Enemy, and It is Us

Image source: The Atlantic

Thought experiment: What if you had the same health care system as Sweden…. but populated it with Americans? Would you have the same health outcomes as Sweden? Would health care as a percentage of the economy cost the same?

Writing in The Atlantic, David H. Freedman argues that high costs and poor medical outcomes are driven not only by the structure of the health care system but the expectations and behaviors of Americans.

We ought to consider the possibility that if we exported Americans to … other countries, their systems might end up with our costs and outcomes. That although Americans (rightly, in my opinion) love the idea of Medicare for All, they would rebel at its reality. In other words, we need to ask: Could the problem with the American health-care system lie not only with the American system but with American patients?

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Bacon Bits: Dulles and Danville

Unfriendly skies. Washington Dulles International Airport is the most expensive airport in the United States to fly from. In a survey of the 45 largest airports, Travel Pulse found that the average ticket cost $427.37. On the other hand, travelers do get a bit more for their money, such as free carry-ons and seat selection.

Question: Why is Dulles so expensive? Pricy airports tend to be hubs for traditional airlines like United and American, the survey author said. So, are the airlines the problem? Or has Dulles squandered money on ill-conceived capital projects — expanding to accommodate growth that never occurred? Our friend Reed Fawell might have something to say on that topic.

Danville’s revival. If you haven’t visited the City of Danville in the last 20 years, perhaps you should. My wife and I drove through downtown a few months ago and she was blown away by how vibrant it was. It turns out that James Fallows, a senior writer for The Atlantic, was similarly impressed. In a recent article he explains that the city maintained a viable economy into the 1970s and 1980s based on textiles and tobacco, did not experience the same hollowing out of its industrial infastructure, and saw no need to tear them down, as was the fashion in many other cities in the era of “urban renewal.” The textiles-and-tobacco economy collapsed in the 1990s, but the brick manufacturing structures were preserved.

Today, Danville has more “antique architecture” than downtown Charlotte or downtown Atlanta, even though those cities are vastly larger. The revival of former tobacco and textile buildings in Danville’s “River District” has created a unique environment of walkable urbanism that may seed the city’s renewable.

If Kids Are Going Hungry, Does Anyone Care Why?

No one wants to see children go hungry, so one’s natural instinct is to sympathize with a new initiative like No Kid Hungry, which is helping parents and caregivers locate free meals in their communities with a simple text message. But a Richmond Times-Dispatch article profiling the program makes a startling statement:

The school year is over this week for most local schoolchildren, which means so are the daily meals many of them rely on as their main — and sometimes only — source of nourishment.

Note the RTD’s emphasis: School breakfast and lunch programs are sometimes the only source of nourishment for American school children. The RTD is asserting, presumably drawing upon the authority of its sources, that some kids in America don’t have access to any food during the summer. Is that not an astonishing statement? If true, is that not an an extraordinary indictment of our social safety net? Continue reading

As Arlington Housing Prices Soar, Supply Is Unresponsive

The worst fears of Amazon critics are coming true. Housing prices are becoming increasingly unaffordable — even before Amazon sets up shop at its HQ2 facility in Arlington and floods the region with 25,000 employees.

The average home price in Arlington County jumped 7% in the past year to $713,000, as investors poured into the market in anticipation of Amazon’s arrival, reports the Washington Post. Inventories are so sparse that some popular Zip codes in Arlington and Alexandria show no homes for sale at all.

Alexandria saw a comparable increase in average home prices, while Fairfax County saw a year-over-year gain of 6%. Said Terry Clower, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis: “This is a market response to the Amazon HQ2 announcement, with investors competing with residents for a shrinking number of homes for sale.”

In a functioning real estate market, prices act as a signal for the allocation of capital. A surge in home prices would be matched by a surge in home building as developers and builders. But, as seen in the table above, based on Arlington County permit statistics, the supply of housing is increasing negligibly. In 2016 the county’s housing stock stood at 111,549 units. According to Arlington County permitting data, the increase in housing units (completions minus demolitions) was only 810 units in 2017 and a negligible 220 units in 2018 — roughly a 1% increase in the housing stock over two years. Continue reading

Give Fairfax a Chance to Clear His Name

Lawyers for Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax have formally requested prosecutors in Suffolk County, Mass., and Durham County, N.C. to open criminal investigations into the sexual assault allegations made against Fairfax in February, reports WJLA.

The allegation of Meredith Watson, who accused Fairfax of raping her in 2000 when they were students at Duke University, should be fully investigated, argued Barry J. Pollack, Fairfax’s attorney, in the letter to the Durham County district attorney. Wrote Pollack:

If an investigation were to determine that the allegation is true, it should be criminally prosecuted. Conversely, if an investigation were to determine that the allegation is false, which Lt. Governor Fairfax is confident would be the conclusion of any unbiased and professional investigation, the matter could be closed and the public informed.

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The Virtues of Incremental Development

Would you rather live here….

One more angle to think about when appraising Amazon’s HQ2 project in Arlington… A single developer, JBG Smith, will have a disproportionate impact on the evolution of the urban fabric in the National Landing district of Arlington and Alexandria. In theory, a single big developer can mobilize more resources, carry out better planning and execute a more uniform standard of design than could an uncoordinated army of small builders.

… or here?

Not so fast. Over on the Strong Towns blog, Daniel Herriges compares “Texas donut” approach typical of Dallas, Texas – a monumental ediface consuming an entire city block — with the incremental approach of traditional development in Charleston, S.C.

“Incremental development doesn’t mean slow, small, or cautious. Incremental means many hands,” Herriges writes. “The ‘increment of development’ is how big each project is, but says nothing about how many projects are taking place. Continue reading

Brace Yourselves, Arlingtonians, for SJW Law Enforcement

Liam Bissainthe’s nightmare has come true (see his blog post here), and Arlington voters nominated Parisa Dehghani-Tafti yesterday as the Democratic Party’s nominee to run for Commonwealth Attorney. In ultra-blue Arlington County (76% Clinton, 16.7% Trump), the Democratic nomination is tantamount to election. Now Arlington will become a petri dish for progressive theories on law enforcement.

To get an idea of Deghani-Tafti’s priorities, here is a statement the George Soros-backed candidate issued last month, according to ARLNow:

I’m for impartiality. Even though rare in our community, use-of-force incidents require impartial review. I’m also a reformer and any time you run as a reformer you get pushback but pushback means we get to talk about the issues. My opponent has fought reform at every turn. Now she has decided to go negative because it distracts from her record of failing to adequately support victims, including survivors of sexual violence — a record of opposing cash bail reform, opposing voting rights for returning citizens, opposing using diversion instead of incarceration for individuals with mental illness, opposing expungement of minor infractions, opposing civil asset forfeiture reform, and opposing transparency and impartiality. I will continue to focus on these issues in the campaign and once elected because that’s what makes everyone safe.

The great thing about America is that it is still (even with an overbearing federal government) a laboratory for democracy. Continue reading