The Legislature could help a lot by doing a lot less

Published 10:52 am Friday, January 17, 2020

The following column was written and submitted by Jon Pritchett, President and CEO of Mississippi Center for Public Policy, the state’s non-partisan, free-market think tank.


The new year brought a new legislative session to Jackson. It also brought new estimates from the Census bureau on Mississippi’s population.

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For the fourth time in five years, Mississippi lost population. The state’s population declined by 4,871, the sixth-highest total in the country. Mississippi and neighboring Louisiana, which saw a decrease of 10,896 residents, are the only states in the South to lose population over the past year. This is a continuing trend.

A look at a map of domestic migration, which measures where Americans are moving over the past year, shows a picture of the haves and the have-nots when it comes to population growth. 

Large swaths of the Northeast and Midwest show a declining population, while the interior west, west coast (save for California), and the Southeast saw population gains. Substantial gains in some states. 

So what can we do to join our Southern neighbors?

We may look at Mississippi and say things like, “we don’t have any cool large cities today that people want to move to.” But honestly, were Salt Lake City or Raleigh or Nashville that cool 30 years ago? They certainly looked and performed much differently than they do today. 

People moved to those places because of opportunity and made them cool. And there are policies the state can adopt that would put Mississippi ahead of the curve when it comes to national policy and position that will cause the state to be competitive nationwide.

For starters, Mississippi needs to move away from a desire to overregulate commerce and embolden government bureaucrats. Mississippi has more than 117,000 regulations that cut across every sector of the economy. A successful model to stem this growing tide would be a one-in, two-out policy where for every new regulation that is adopted, two have to be removed. If a regulatory policy is so important, make the government prove it. 

The Trump administration adopted a similar executive order in 2017, and the numbers show we are actually seeing decreases greater than two-to-one.

This could be particularly beneficial in healthcare and tech policy. No department regulates more than the Department of Health, but our goal should be a push toward free-market healthcare reforms that encourage choice and competition. Certificate of Need reform would be a good place to start.

In tech policy, Mississippi has the opportunity to be one of the first states to essentially open the door for innovation, rather than one where entrepreneurs need to seek permission from the state. If Mississippi wants to get in the technology world, and we are convinced this is essential, a permissionless innovation policy in healthcare would be a big step in the right direction.

We need to continue to reform our occupational licensing requirements. This includes providing universal recognition of licensing, following the path paved by Arizona. If you have been licensed in one state, that license should be good in Mississippi. Again, we could lead on an issue that would be particularly beneficial to military families.

Our current licensing regime serves to lower competition and increase costs for consumers, while not providing those consumers with a better product. Occupational licensing is an example of how Mississippi misses the opportunity to grow her economy by acting in defensive ways to protect the slices of our economic pie for the well-connected when the reality is we could create a much bigger economic pie if we encouraged more creative disruption, competition, and risk-taking. 

Finally, Mississippi needs to shed its abundant reliance on the government and the public sector. Whether for public assistance, grants, contracts, jobs, or specific tax breaks, the citizens and companies in Mississippi are too dependent on state government. And the state is too dependent on the federal government. We have the third-highest level of economic dependence on federal grants-in-aid in the nation (43 percent) and the fourth-highest level of our economy driven by the public sector in the country (55 percent).

Politicians, state agency directors, and government bureaucrats cannot create the economic growth we need. They can, however, work together with our various representatives and create an environment that allows and encourages private economic activities. Ultimately, with such an environment, it will be the entrepreneurs, business owners, productive workers, creative disruptors, capitalists, managers, and consumers who deliver the economic growth we all seek. 

There’s no rule that Mississippi has to lose population. Alabama, with whom we share much in common, had a domestic migration growth that ranked 18th in the country last year. We’d celebrate that. Some will look at Mississippi’s woes and say the problem is that government doesn’t do enough. As the success of our neighbors shows, that couldn’t be further from the truth.