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Via today’s Cato Daily Podcast, Puerto Rico is in a bit of a mess. Its economy hasn’t grown in a decade, it has net population loss (among U.S. states, only West Virginia has that distinction), and it’s got a debt-to-GDP ratio of 70%, more than four times that of the average U.S. state. And just this week, its state-run electrical utility is expected to miss a payment on its debts this week. It’s not quite America’s Greece, but it’s doing its best to audition for the part.
While many of these problems are the result of the islands’ own bad choices — among them, a refusal to publish its budget in English as well as Spanish, making it much more difficult for others to review — Nicole Kaeding explains that some federal policies are making matters worse. Specifically, she cites shipping regulations that artificially raise prices there (as well as in Hawaii, I presume) and the federal minimum wage. The latter has an enormous effect on Puerto Ricans: 28% of hourly workers there earn it, which means it likely prices many others out of the labor market entirely; unsurprisingly, Puerto Rico has an unemployment rate of 12.2%. If you have seven minutes, take the time to listen to the whole interview.
I think this has some excellent potential for use in the 2016 campaign. No, I’m not suggesting a “courting Latinos” strategy — though I’m happy for anything that works that way — but for using it as an illustrative, right-on-the-merits way to hammer Democrats on economic freedom that will put them on the defensive. Imagine Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, or Rick Perry saying something like this in a debate:
I’d like to ask Mrs. Clinton why she thinks it’s the federal government’s business to tell a single mom in Puerto Rico that she’s not allowed to sell her time and talents for what she considers a fair price. I’d like to ask Mrs. Clinton why she thinks it’s better for Puerto Ricans to go on welfare than be allowed to work. Heck, I’d like to ask Mrs. Clinton why she thinks the federal government has any business telling any American that it knows what’s better for them than they do themselves.
And, obviously, there’s no reason to restrict this sort of thing to Puerto Rico, though watching Democrats squirm over it would be fun.