Category Archives: Business and Economy

Casino Gambling a Risky Bet

by Kerry Dougherty

“I thought you were a libertarian,” a friend of mine said accusingly last week. “So why would you vote against casino gambling if you lived in Norfolk?”

I’m not against gambling, I explained. I just don’t want it in my backyard. There’s no benefit to society. Plus, it brings sleazy activity, crime and poverty to places that legalize it.

Gambling almost never lives up to the hype.

Last winter the General Assembly approved casino gambling for Virginia and allowed five “economically disadvantaged” cities; Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville, Richmond and Bristol to hold referendums on the matter. Four of the cities vote next week. Richmond is holding off for a year.

What this means is that cities with more than their share of poor people will get casinos. I’m not sure that will work out the way the politicians think it will. Continue reading

Assembly Protected Utilities, Not Other Businesses

First published this morning (with some slight differences) by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

By Steve Haner

Now that the Virginia General Assembly’s “Cops and COVID” special session is all but finished, will it be easier or harder for the state’s struggling economy to recover in 2021? It will be harder, probably, except for the utilities.

The initial reason Governor Ralph Northam recalled legislators starting August 18 was to review the state budget for COVID recession-related changes. Then a series of confrontations between police and Black Americans added law enforcement and criminal punishment to the agenda.

But the legislators reached far beyond those issues in the 270 pieces of legislation introduced, of which 56 have now passed (many of them duplicates).  The Assembly recessed October 16, but did not adjourn, and that will delay the effective date of the various new laws until perhaps March 1.

What did the legislature do for or to the business climate in Virginia? Continue reading

The November Election, Marijuana and Northern Virginia

By DJ Rippert

Up for grabs. In about three weeks Americans who haven’t already voted will go to the polls and vote. The presidency, the U,S, House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate are all in play.  Regarding the impact of the legalized adult use of marijuana in Virginia, the U.S. Senate is the key. That belief makes the relatively safe assumption that the Democrats will maintain a majority in the House. The reason the Senate is the key to recreational marijuana use in Northern Virginia involves Washington, D.C. Washington has already legalized the recreational use of marijuana.  However, the implementation of a retail capability to buy and sell marijuana has been thwarted by Republicans using federal appropriations bills.  That thwarting will end if the Democrats control both the House and Senate.

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5G and Rural Virginia

A horse pulling fiber in Kentucky. Photo credit: Pro Publica

by DJ Rippert

A tale of two places.  The next generation of consumer wireless technology is called Fifth Generation or 5G. It is being rolled out in select parts of the United States right now. 5G will be a boon to urban and suburban Virginia. Absent heavy government subsidies, it will likely have a minimal direct effect on rural Virginia. Of course, any technology that favors high population density areas over low population density areas expands the rural-urban gap. The reasons for 5G’s value in high density areas vs low density areas run the gamut from physics to economics. However, there are some engineering scenarios and demographic situations where 5G might be effective in select rural areas without massive governmental subsidies. Those will be discussed later in this post. And, of course, massive government subsidies are always on the table. Continue reading

Marxist Educational Strongholds at the University of Virginia – A Course Guide

Karl Marx

by James C. Sherlock, University of Virginia, College of Arts and Sciences, 1966

This essay will present a survey of left-wing educational opportunities at the University of Virginia by means of a review of courses offered in its Marxist critical theory strongholds. 

It does not presume the reader favors or rejects Marxism, but provides a course roadmap for those who think Marxism is a path to the future and a cautionary tale for those who don’t.

First a brief background, and then we will offer the course guide. Continue reading

VA COVID Deaths Drop Again. Distrust the Data.

By Steve Haner

The Google satellite photo shows Rhine River cruise boats parked recently at Basel, Switzerland, probably including the one that my wife and I would have been boarding tomorrow morning. Losing a scheduled cruise is of no concern against all the other human and economic costs of this pandemic, but it provides a slightly different illustration for a COVID story.

It’s time for another check on how Virginia is doing.    Continue reading

It Just Got Worse for the Unemployed

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

For those on this blog (including me) who have speculated as to why unemployed Virginians, who were getting up to $300 per week in unemployment benefits, could be behind on their rent, mortgage, and utility bills, here is one answer: They have not been getting that money since August 1.

The Virginian Pilot (and other media outlets) reports that the Virginia Employment Commission is still having trouble distributing the funds made available by President Trump’s decision to use FEMA balances after the Congressional authorization expired. At first, VEC said that there was sufficient funding for only three weeks, which would be paid retroactively in early September. Then it was six weeks’ worth of funding, but payment would be delayed until September 30. Now, the agency says there has been a programming problem and the target date is October 15, although there is some hope that the payments will go out sooner than that. Continue reading

House Offers $330 Million Utility, Unemployment Aid

By Steve Haner

Virginia’s House of Delegates has proposed spending $120 million from federal COVID-19 relief funds to help at least some Virginia families catch up on their utility bills and wants to pump $210 million from the same source into the state’s unemployment insurance program.

Both ideas surfaced when the House Appropriations Committee approved a set of budget amendments September 25 (more details here). Neither idea is matched in the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee amendments, also revealed Friday and summarized here. That $330 million in COVID assistance for individuals is a serious difference of opinion to be resolved in the coming conference process.

The General Assembly so far is following Governor Ralph Northam’s advice to show restraint on state spending in the midst of the COVID-19 recession. Neither the House nor the Senate are proposing to raid state reserves to restore spending priorities frozen during the emergency. Neither is looking to increase any tax rates.

However, both have plenty of ideas for spending the $1.3 billion in unallocated federal COVID funds provided to Virginia. And both combed through the budget looking for places to cut or unnoticed revenues, creating available money to be spent on their own priorities.  Continue reading

COVID Shutdown Shocker: People Losing their Jobs More Likely to Experience Depression

by James A. Bacon

People who are out of work and/or facing financial difficulties are significantly more likely to suffer depression than others, according to data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey for August 19-31. That’s hardly a breath-taking conclusion. But thanks to the survey, we have extensive data on the extent to which economic insecurity is impacting mental health during the COVID shutdown.

In Virginia, according to the survey data, young adults are more likely than their elders to feel “have little interest or pleasure in doing things” nearly every day — 9.4% of Virginia 18-to-29-year-olds compared to 0.6% in the 70-to-79 age bracket.

There was little difference in responses between males and females, or between households with and without children. While there were differences between racial/ethnic groups, the variability was relatively narrow and largely explainable by socioeconomic status. (Asians were the main outlier; they were twice as likely to report being depressed as whites and blacks.) Continue reading

Herring Substitutes Emotion for Logic in Price-Gouging Case

Face masks? You want face masks? Have we got face masks.

by James A. Bacon

Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined 30 other state attorneys general in filing an amicus brief in a federal appeals court to support the right of states to enforce price-gouging regulations against Amazon retailers.

National and local emergencies, such as the COVID-19 epidemic, create shortages of essential items, says a press release from Herring’s office today. State price gouging laws are necessary to ensure that goods can be “fairly allocated” among residents and prevent “bad actors” from profiting from the shortages.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted just how unscrupulous some businesses will be in taking advantage of a situation like a public health crisis to try and make more money,” said Herring. “It is critical that each state has the ability to protect its consumers and enforce its own price gouging laws during emergencies to make sure all consumers have the same access to essential goods.”

Nobody likes price gougers. Everyone reacts with disgust toward profiteers who exploit the insecurity and suffering of others in a time of crisis to make a quick buck. The only people worse than price gougers are… the people who would sve us from price gougers. Continue reading

Permanent COVID Reg Called “The Fifth Dragon”

By Steve Haner

Most Virginia employers probably have not read, let alone fully complied with, the emergency temporary standard on protecting their employees from COVID-19 adopted back in July. Yet the public comment period on the permanent version of the rules, which can carry major sanctions, closes this Friday.

Only twenty comments had been filed as of Monday morning, half of them anonymous. So far, the proposed permanent version is not generating the level of activity that surrounded the proposed temporary rule. The Department of Labor and Industry’s Safety and Health Code Board allowed no public hearing before adoption, only written comments.

File a comment on the proposed permanent standard here. You can read the comments to date here. The proposed permanent standard can be read here.

Continue reading

A Capitalist Solution to Food Deserts

Militant agriculture

by James A. Bacon

Yesterday, channeling the spirit of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, I asked what a young person should do if he or she wanted to make the world a better place. Broadly speaking, there are three approaches. One is activism in which people who, informed by a desire to improve the lives of those less fortunate than themselves, lobby for reformist government policies and create philanthropic programs to address perceived needs. Another is militancy. Convinced that the entire system is corrupt, militants waste little time ameliorating the condition of individuals but seek to overthrow the established order. A third approach is capitalism, in which entrepreneurs find creative ways to meet previously unmet needs.

Activist agriculture

We need more entrepreneurs.

If Virginia has an affordable housing crisis, we can’t solve the problem in the long run by passing eviction laws or enacting more government-subsidized housing programs. We need entrepreneurs who can find innovative ways to create lower-cost housing. If lower-income Virginians are afflicted by payday lenders charging high fees and interest rates, we can’t address the credit needs of the poor by legislating payday lenders out of existence. We need entrepreneurs who find innovative, low-cost ways to extend small amounts of credit. Continue reading

End the Coalfield Boondoggle

Alpha Natural Resources mine facility

By Peter Galuszka

The General Assembly’s auditing watchdog has recommended the elimination of  two coal tax credits that have been a bonanza to Virginia coal companies worth $315 million from 2010 to 2018 but have created only 10 jobs.

The report by the Joint Legislative and Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) studied 16 different tax credits to boost the state’s economy but recommended  only eliminating the ones involving coal production.

Those credits involve the Coalfield Employment Enhancement Tax Credit, formed in 1995, and the Production Incentive Tax Credit, formed in 1986 to help with electricity generation.

Virginia’s coal production peaked in 1990 and has been declining since. In 2000, for instance, it had been 33 million short tons but in 2019, it had dropped to 12 million short tons.

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A Sad Emblem of Our Times

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

A venerable Richmond-based printing company closed last May. Somehow, that really saddened me. Perhaps because it was located not far from where I live. Perhaps because it had been around for so long.  Perhaps because it had a niche business that seemed sort of neat to me. Perhaps because its closing seemed so emblematic of the times.

I meant to comment on it then, but other topics and activities kept bumping it down the list. Then, Jim’s post yesterday about the Virginia economy and some of the follow-up comments brought it back to my mind.

The William Byrd Press was founded in 1913. In 1984, it merged with a North Carolina company and was renamed Cadmus. By 2007, it had 500 employees and was the world’s largest printer for publishers of scientific, technical, and medical journals. It was the fifth largest printer of periodicals in North America. Continue reading

Is Green Hydrogen the Answer?

By Peter Galuszka

Utilities, including Dominion Energy, are increasingly exploring the use of now-costly hydrogen technology to produce electricity with little or no carbon.

One of the most promising uses involves using excess renewable electricity from solar farms or wind turbines to power electrolyzer devices that strip hydrogen away from oxygen in water. The hydrogen is then used to power special batteries.

The result? Carbon free power that is available at just about any time when winds are blowing or the sun isn’t shining.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Dominion plans on experimenting with hydrogen for another use. It will try to blend hydrogen into its natural gas distribution system to reduce carbon and methane emissions. It will be testing a 5% hydrogen blend in some natural gas shipments next year, the Journal reports.

Eventually, it may go the route of electrolyzers and use solar and wind power to produce hydrogen. It appears that Dominion’s experiments may take place in the Far West where it owns power generation and distribution systems in Utah.

Another firm that has plans for hydrogen is NextEra Energy Inc., based in Florida. It plans on using hydrogen and natural gas to run a power plant in California. “What makes us really excited about hydrogen is that it has the potential to supplement significant deployment of renewables,” the Journal quotes NextEra CFO Rebecca Kujawa as saying. Continue reading