As the state moves forward in these tenuous economic times, a couple of questions are being raised about the government’s role in the economy—namely, its ability to pick winners and losers—that every citizen needs to pay attention to, for they affect future prosperity in the Badger state.
The first is pandemic related, specifically, why did the government handpick which businesses could stay open in the pandemic and which could not?  At first, it was supposed to be about keeping open only those businesses essential to the economy, but it doesn’t take long to realize that, in a capitalist economy, all businesses are essential. 
Single out one or more categories for favoritism or punishment and it upsets the ability of markets to work as they should. It distorts both labor and capital markets.
Right now, fortunately, there’s a Republican bill that would limit the government’s use of emergency powers during emergencies, specifically as it relates to small businesses. Under the bill, no business could be declared essential or nonessential, and any action or regulation of a business relating to an emergency would have to be applied to all businesses uniformly without regard for the type of business or the product or service provided by the business.
Indeed, one of the most discriminatory — and likely unconstitutional — actions by the state during the pandemic was the artificial distinction of what was an essential or nonessential business, or who was an essential or nonessential worker. Institutional exercises of such extreme power are by their very nature arbitrary, and that these distinctions had so little to do with public health was evidenced in how arbitrary and capricious they were. 
With business closures, it’s as if the list of favored essential businesses and of disfavored nonessential businesses was made with the flip of a coin.
This was true all over the country. In some places, you could buy furniture in a hardware store or a Walmart but not in a furniture store. In other places, car dealers with heavy foot traffic were open but jewelry stores and other retail stores with far less traffic were not. Stores that supplied schools with supplies were open, but schools were not.
In Wisconsin, a liquor store was essential but a church was not. You couldn’t invite your neighbor over for dinner but you could golf with him or her shoulder to shoulder in the morning. It went on and on.
What the government was doing was picking winners and losers.
Most always the losers were the smaller retail stores and small businesses that were shut down for no good public health reason at all, while big businesses and in particular big-box retailers, like the aforementioned Walmart, were the winners. 
At the heart of the bill is a straightforward policy that all businesses shall be treated alike during an emergency declaration by the government. It would guarantee that the uncertainty and hardship that small businesses had to endure would not happen again.
Too many small businesses — the real economic drivers of this state — had to close their doors forever, and none of it had any effect on controlling the pandemic.
It’s ironic to us that Gov. Tony Evers keeps talking about how he wants to help small businesses get back on their feet, this as he runs for re-election and solicits their support. But all of us should remember that, if it weren’t for Evers and his anti-small business policies, small businesses would never have been knocked off their feet in the first place.
Another question that has been raised this week, also related to the pandemic, is about the amount of money the government is spending.
Number crunchers over at the Badger Institute have been looking at where federal Covid tax dollars are going, and what they found was that Wisconsin is not doing very well compared to other states.
As Badger Institute president Mike Nichols wrote this week, Wisconsin is eighth from the bottom when it comes to federal Covid cash, netting only $9,834 per capita. Other states do far better. Vermont, for example, is netting $16,214 per capita.
In first and second place are the government workers in the District of Columbia ($21,945 per capita) and the professionals in New York State ($16,950), Nichols reports.
So why does Wisconsin get so little? Well for one thing, Nichols writes, formulas for some of the pandemic programs were intentionally structured to send more money on a per capita basis to smaller states like Vermont. 
In other words, as with setting distinctions between essential and nonessential workers and businesses, the politicians were once again picking winners and losers, this time among the states.
Still, almost $10,000 per capita is a hefty sum of money, and Nichols and the Badger Institute are wondering, where is all that money going?
That’s an ongoing project, we guess, and we are pretty sure they will find that a lot of it is being spent for things that have nothing to do with Covid. But at the heart of the problem, as Nichols points out, “there’s very little accountability, not enough transparency and just plain too much money. There are thousands and thousands and thousands of line items, no good way to keep track of them and, too often, no real rules.”
As a result, lawmakers have introduced other bills to give the Assembly and Senate more oversight over how federal spending is distributed and more transparency regarding where it goes. As Nichols writes, that’s a good thing, just as prohibiting arbitrary emergency distinctions during a pandemic is a good thing. 
“Otherwise, we’re just part of the race to grab as much of the rest of America’s cash as we can before the socialists in Vermont and scammers in New York, aided and abetted by the politicians and bureaucrats all across America, get it,” he wrote. “That’s a competition we’ll never win.”
Of course, it’s important to remember that even if the Legislature passes all these common-sense and needed bills, they will be vetoed by a governor who is part of the problem of big government overreach and overspending.
Good thing, then, there’s a gubernatorial election in November. That’s a competition we can win.