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At Charles Koch Institute panel, four economists talk Florida’s economic viability

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At a panel hosted by the Charles Koch Institute at the Grand Bohemian Hotel downtown Tuesday evening, four economic experts discussed Florida’s place in the national economy and what we can be doing better.

The panelists included Jesse Panuccio, former Executive Director of the state Department of Economic Opportunity, Sal Nuzzo, vice president of policy for the James Madison Institute, economic professor Sean Kantor and Bill Peacock, vice president of research and director of the Center for Economic Freedom in Texas.

The panel was moderated by Charles Koch Institute managing director of research and policy Alison Fraser, who reminded the audience throughout that despite the individual views of each panelist, the Charles Koch Institute was purely an educational vehicle and wasn’t endorsing any politicians.

All four men professed free-market conservative views, declaring that Florida and Texas, in particular, had done well in the U.S. through the strong conservative leadership of their governors. Florida, according to all four of them, could continue to thrive through smart spending and lowering taxes while protecting the free market.

“The best policy is the one most limited in government intruding in the efficiency generated from the market,” Nuzzo said. “Enforcing rules about minimum wage and overtime only distort what the market has come to on its own.”

Peacock said there were two ways to regulate spending – one being letting the government “confiscate” money from those who make it and give it to those who don’t, which he compared to mercantilism and the Pax Romana.

The other, he said, was one in which people who are good at acquiring wealth can use it in the best way they see fit – this, he called the American Dream.

Nuzzo piggybacked off that and stated that Florida’s economic model, like that of Peacock’s home state of Texas, had been focused on using money as an incentive, to attract jobs and businesses from outside the state.

It became a slight point of contention for Panuccio, who said focusing on incentivizing outside companies and jobs to come in was “such a small drop in the bucket” compared to what he perceived as larger things the state could be doing.

“It’s more important to focus on the overall tax policy in Florida,” he said. “We should focus on education and being more competitive. The fetishizing of incentives is taking your eye off the ball.”

Kantor also said doing better on making an educated workforce should be a priority. In response to assertions from the others that Florida’s massive wealth of companies migrating there from all around the nation was an indicator of strength, Kantor said those companies weren’t really “moving.”

“If a Texas company comes here, it’s not the company moving,” he said. “It’s still a Texas company. We’re just partnering and sharing the goodies. It’s a benefit to Florida right now – we’re eating their lunch right now, but they could be eating our lunch down the road.”

The answer to longer-term economic stability, he said, was lower taxes and smarter spending, not focusing only on incentives.

In their closing remarks, the men doubled down on their positions from the panel, asserting that Florida is doing well, and it can do even better if the state plays its cards right.

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