House Speaker Dick Hinch, R-Merrimack, was a gentleman of cheer and goodwill. Though he held strong convictions and would fight aggressively for policies he thought were right for New Hampshire, he believed that politics should be conducted with civility and understanding.

Humble and unassuming, he was an unlikely political leader in our social media age. But he won people over by listening to them and treating them with respect and dignity.

He was expected to model those virtues as speaker in the next session while pursuing an agenda focused on fiscal restraint, government reform, and individual empowerment. He died only a week into his speakership, just when his friendly, open-handed leadership would have added a certain brightness to a rapidly darkening winter. His passing is a tremendous loss for New Hampshire.

Even heading into an expectedly mild winter, New Englanders are being reminded that the region has a dangerous shortage of natural gas transportation infrastructure. 

ISO New England, the region’s independent electric grid operator, warned on Tuesday that a lack of natural gas pipelines puts the region at risk of a winter power shortage in a period of extreme, prolonged cold.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation issued a similar warning in its Winter Reliability Assessment released last month. 

And in an interview with the Josiah Bartlett Center this week, the executive director of the Harvard Energy Policy Group at Harvard University said New England had avoided a winter power shortage purely by luck. 

“New England has had good luck. I don’t know how else to describe it,” Harvard’s Ashley Brown said. “One year, Venezuela dumped a bunch of gas. This year it’s a warm winter. It’s a matter of time until it catches up.”

The issue, Brown said, is a shortage of natural gas pipelines. 

“The fuel is there. The problem is moving it. It’s pipeline capacity, that’s what it is,” he said.

“The problem is two difficulties in building pipelines. One is the opposition, whether it’s environmental, whether it’s NIMBY. Then, after all that, you still have the problem of who’s going to finance it.”

ISO New England predicted that the region should have enough power to get through the coming winter. That comforting reassurance is what got the news headlines.

In part thanks to a winter temperatures that are expected to be warmer than usual, ISO New England projects electricity demand to fall 1.5 percent below last winter’s peak for normal weather conditions and 1.7 percent below its peak for extreme cold.

And yet the grid operator pointed out that New England remains at risk of running out of power during periods of peak demand caused by extreme cold.

Peter Brandien, vice president of System Operations & Market Administration, said in a statement that “if the region experiences an extended period of extreme cold weather, fuel supplies into the region could become constrained resulting in challenging system operation.”

The agency noted that a shortage of natural gas pipelines is cause for concern.

“Consecutive days of extremely cold weather can reduce fuel availability for generating power due to regional natural gas pipeline capacity constraints,” its announcement stated.

The North American Energy Reliability Corporation (NERC) report also predicted that the region would have sufficient energy to make it through the winter. But like ISO New England, it warned about insufficient gas pipeline capacity.

“New England [power] generation continues to be limited by the availability of natural gas,” the NERC report stated.

The report noted that gas supplies are adequate to meet demand even in abnormally cold conditions, however periods of severe and prolonged cold similar to 2018 “can lead to the eventual loss of generation.”

The report more than once referenced the nasty New England winter of 2017-18, which included a blizzard in January of 2018 that dropped up to two feet of snow across the Mid-Atlantic and New England states.

By not building enough natural gas pipelines, New England is taking a risky gamble, Brown said. And the longer the region gambles, the better the odds that the worst-case scenario happens, Brown said.

“The question is, how long will we be lucky in New England?”

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Join us on Dec. 17!


Gov. Chris Sununu and author P.J. O’Rourke headline a new virtual event series launched this month by the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy.

Go here to make your reservations ($120 for the entire six-month series, $25 for one event):

The Libertas Virtual Event Series will run for six months, from December through May, and will focus on policies that promote economic freedom in New Hampshire. 

Gov. Sununu kicks off the series with a Zoom event at noon on Thursday, Dec. 17. We will have a lively discussion about the importance of economic freedom to New Hampshire, governing during a pandemic, and what’s in store for 2021. 

Author P.J. O’Rourke headlines January’s event, the date to be announced soon. O’Rourke is author of numerous books, including “Parliament of Whores,” “Peace Kills,” and the newly released “A Cry from the Far Middle.”

A new event featuring a different speaker will follow each month through May.

The Josiah Bartlett Center launches the series with generous support from prime sponsors AT&T and Sig Sauer, with additional support from Bank of America. 

The Libertas Virtual Event Series replaces the Bartlett Center’s 2020 Libertas Award Dinner, which could not be held because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Reservations for the entire six-month series are $120, which is only $20 per event. Reservations for individual events will be available for $25 each. 

Reservations can be made at

Donations to the Josiah Bartlett Center, a 501(C)(3) non-profit organization, are tax-deductible. The Josiah Bartlett Center’s mission is to develop and advance practical free-market policies that promote prosperity and opportunity for all Granite Staters.

All events will be held via Zoom webinar. Attendees will be able to post questions to be asked by the moderator.

New Hampshire’s COVID-19 test positivity rate rose by 480% in November, indicating rapidly increasing community transmission, state data show.

The test positivity rate, including tests from the University of New Hampshire, rose from a 7-day average of 1.5% on November 1st to a 7-day average of 6.8% on November 30th, according to data from the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.

The state recorded 10,545 new infections in November, according to daily data drawn from the state’s COVID-19 dashboard. (The dashboard numbers are different than the numbers reported in the daily press releases.)

That’s a 383% increase from the month before and a 94% increase over the previous eight months combined.

Cumulative infections for March through the end of October totaled 11,189.

Hospitalizations rose at a much slower rate than infections throughout the month, and deaths remained flat.

The state recorded 60 new hospitalizations in November, up from 36 in October, for a 166% increase. But that monthly total remains less than half the total in July (128) and just 28% of April’s high (213).

The state recorded 43 new COVID-19 deaths in November, the same number as in October, for no increase. Deaths were higher in April (69), May (176), June (136) and July (44) despite each of those months recording only a small fraction of November’s infections.

That deaths remained flat from October to November despite a 377% increase in infections was unexpectedly good news.

However, December’s early death numbers are very high and caution against assuming that fatalities are under control. The state recorded 18 deaths through December 3, representing 42% of November’s total in just three days.

Every death in November was a person age 60 or older. Every death so far in December also has been a person age 60 or older.

Through December 3, just 19 of the state’s 544 deaths have been people under the age of 60. Only one person under age 40 has died of COVID-19 in New Hampshire. That person was between the ages of 20 and 29. Nearly 81% of all New Hampshire COVID-19 deaths (80.9%) have been residents of long-term care facilities.


The 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ landing in the New World is a time to reflect on important lessons we want our children to remember about America’s founding. One of the most critical is that hippie communes don’t work.

Yes, the Pilgrims who arrived in Massachusetts in 1620 promptly tried to create a socialist workers paradise.

Like all other socialist paradises, it left a failed legacy of starvation and death.

The 1621 harvest meal that we honor as the first Thanksgiving was not the norm. (That’s why it was such a big deal.) The Pilgrims that year celebrated an abundant supply of food that was not common during their first years of settlement. 

They routinely struggled to produce enough food to survive. The cause of this struggle was their collective farming system. 

Benjamin Powell, economist at the Independent Institute, described it this way in a 2008 essay:

“In 1620 Plymouth Plantation was founded with a system of communal property rights. Food and supplies were held in common and then distributed based on equality and need as determined by Plantation officials. People received the same rations whether or not they contributed to producing the food, and residents were forbidden from producing their own food. Governor William Bradford, in his 1647 history, Of Plymouth Plantation, wrote that this system was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. The problem was that young men, that were most able and fit for labour, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. Because of the poor incentives, little food was produced.”

In short, the colonists landed in the New World and immediately tried to create Vermont. It worked about as well as… Vermont.

But they didn’t even get Ben & Jerry’s out of the deal. All they got were low crop yields, laggard farmers, and hunger. 

Gov. Bradford understood that something had to change. In 1623, he and the colony’s leadership scrapped the hippie farms and apportioned good, old-fashioned private plots for each household. Here’s how he described it in Of Plymouth Plantation:

“All this whille no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expecte any. So they begane to thinke how they might raise as much corne as they could, and obtaine a beter crope then they had done, that they might not still thus languish in miserie. At length, after much debate of things, the Govr (with ye advise of ye cheefest amongest them) gave way that they should set corne every man for his owne perticuler, and in that regard trust to them selves; in all other things to goe on in ye generall way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcell of land, according to the proportion of their number for that end, only for present use (but made no devission for inheritance), and ranged all boys & youth under some familie. This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corne was planted then other waise would have bene by any means ye Govr or any other could use, and saved him a great deall of trouble, and gave farr better contente. The women now wente willingly into ye feild, and tooke their litle-ons with them to set corne, which before would aledg weaknes, and inabilitie; whom to have compelled would have bene thought great tiranie and oppression.”

Under communal farming, the colonists would “languish in misery.” Private plots, on the other hand, “made all hands very industrious” so that “much more corn was planted…”

Bradford mused further on this switch in economic arrangements.

“The experience that was had in this com̅one course and condition, tried sundrie years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanitie of that conceite of Platos & other ancients, applauded by some of later times;—that ye taking away of propertie, and bringing in com̅unitie into a comone wealth, would make them happy and florishing; as if they were wiser then God. For this comunitie (so farr as it was) was found to breed much confusion & discontent, and retard much imploymēt that would have been to their benefite and comforte. For ye yong-men that were most able and fitte for labour & service did repine that they should spend their time & streingth to worke for other mens wives and children, with out any recompence. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in devission of victails & cloaths, then he that was weake and not able to doe a quarter ye other could; this was thought injuestice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalised in labours, and victails, cloaths, &c., with ye meaner & yonger sorte, thought it some indignite & disrespect unto them. And for mens wives to be commanded to doe servise for other men, as dresing their meate, washing their cloaths, &c., they deemd it a kind of slaverie, neither could many husbands well brooke it.”

In other words, the colonists thrived only after they stopped trying to create Vermont and instead created New Hampshire. 

Bradford made a point to criticize the intellectuals who led people astray by praising communal living as more desirable than a society based on family and private property. “Vanity and conceit,” he called it. 

He credited the colony’s “flourishing” to this switch from a socialist economic system to a capitalist one. 

Thus the superiority of private property and trade was being demonstrated in America as early as 1623. It was written into one of America’s founding literary and historical works. And yet, it doesn’t get taught as a central lesson of America’s founding. 

This year’s 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower presents a great opportunity to revive this lesson that Bradford clearly wanted posterity to learn. Economic incentives matter, even to Puritans. Systems that provide the right incentives create prosperity; those that don’t create misery.

New Hampshire is a small, remote, mountainous state with no major port or trade hub. Considering only natural economic resources, it has more liabilities than assets. Yet its economy is legendary. Its economic growth has been the envy of New England for decades. 

How did this happen?

The simple answer is that New Hampshire unleashed the power of human ingenuity by systematically pursuing economic freedom for its people. The human mind being the greatest economic asset, New Hampshire leaders freed it from unnecessary constraints. Tremendous prosperity followed. 

What we call “The New Hampshire Advantage” is not merely the absence of a broad-based sales or income tax. It is the result of a consistent, decades-long strategy of leaving individuals and businesses largely free to trade with each other as they see fit. 

In short, the state’s economic strategy is to not have an economic strategy, other than to leave people and businesses free. It has worked beautifully. 

Below are the inflation-adjusted real GDP growth rates of every New England state from 1977-2019, from worst to first, along with the rate for the U.S. as a whole. The data are from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and were compiled by the United States Regional Economic Analysis Project. 

Rhode Island: 124%

Maine: 135%

Connecticut: 163%

Vermont: 188%

Massachusetts: 234%

New Hampshire: 335%

USA: 203%

New Hampshire’s 335% growth is astounding. Such are the benefits of economic freedom. 

The Fraser Institute, a Canadian free-market think tank, has for years ranked North American states on economic freedom. This week New Hampshire ranked No. 1 in North America — again.

For 24 straight years, New Hampshire has ranked as either the first or second most economically free U.S. state. Since Alberta, Canada, drifted away from free-market economics several years ago, New Hampshire has often ranked first in North America. 

As the authors of the Fraser Institute’s report point out, “economic freedom is positively correlated with per-capita income, economic growth, greater life expectancy, lower child mortality, the development of democratic institutions, civil and political freedoms, and other desirable social and economic outcomes.”

Many people assume that New Hampshire’s low levels of taxation and government spending would lead to a high poverty rate. The opposite is true. We have the lowest poverty rate in New England. 

The poverty rates for New England states are:

Maine: 10.9%

Rhode Island: 10.8%

Vermont: 10.2%

Connecticut: 10%

Massachusetts: 9.4% 

New Hampshire: 7.3%

Freedom and prosperity tend to attract people who live in less desirable places. During the half century starting in 1960, New Hampshire experienced the highest population growth rate in New England. In the 1980s, our population growth rate was more than double that of Vermont and five times that of Massachusetts.

A 2008 report for the Council on the Future of Vermont noted the sharp difference between New Hampshire and Vermont in the 20th century.

“Had we kept pace with their growth rate for the past 106 years, our population would now stand at 1.1 million, about double our present population,” it concluded. 

New Hampshire has gone from slightly more populous than Vermont in 1900 to more than twice as populous today.

Unlike Vermont, New Hampshire doesn’t have to pay people to move here. They come voluntarily.

In 2016, we surpassed Maine’s population for the first time in 215 years, though Maine is 3.78 times larger than New Hampshire.

Because humans are the world’s greatest economic resource, economic growth and population growth bring prosperity. Census figures show that New Hampshire’s median household income of $74,057 is about 25% higher than Vermont’s $60,076 and about 35% larger than Maine’s $55,425.

Despite having no Boston Harbor, Logan Airport, MIT, Harvard, BU, BC, or Yale, no Gold Coast along the Long Island Sound, and being relatively isolated in Northern New England, New Hampshire’s median household income is equal to 97% of Connecticut’s and 96% of Massachusetts’.

New Hampshire has a great state motto, which it should keep. But the state Department of Business and Economic Affairs could modify it into an accurate and catchy marketing slogan: “Live free and prosper.”

Since war and revolution gave way to trade and commerce, “Live free and prosper” has been the New Hampshire way. By cherishing economic freedom, we’ve created an island of liberty and prosperity in a region that has become distrustful of both. It works. Let’s stay with it.

New Hampshire is the most economically free state in North America for the second year in a row, and the third time in four years, finds this year’s edition of Economic Freedom in North America, the annual report from Canadian free-market think tank the Fraser Institute.

New Hampshire scored 7.84 out of 10 in this year’s report (down from 7.93 last year), beating out second-place Florida (7.73).

“The New Hampshire Advantage has made Granite Staters more economically free than roughly half a billion other North Americans, from Nunavut to Chiapas,” Josiah Bartlett Center President Andrew Cline said. “From the simple idea that people should be left as free as possible to pursue their economic dreams, we’ve created a continental marvel.”

Rounding out the top five freest U.S. states are Virginia (3rd), Texas (4th) and Tennessee (5th). At the other end of the index, New York (50th) is once again the least-free state, followed by West Virginia (49th), Alaska (48th), California (47th) and Vermont (46th).

New England states were ranked as follows: New Hampshire (1), Massachusetts (18), Connecticut (25), Maine (37), Rhode Island (43) and Vermont (46).

The report measures the extent to which the policies of individual provinces and states in Canada, the United States of America and Mexico were supportive of economic freedom, the ability of individuals to act in the economic sphere free of undue restrictions.

Economic freedom—the ability of individuals to make their own economic decisions including what to buy, where to work and whether to start a business—is fundamental to prosperity.

“When governments allow markets to decide what’s produced, how it’s produced and how much is produced, citizens enjoy greater levels of economic freedom,” said Fred McMahon, the Dr. Michael A. Walker Research Chair in Economic Freedom at the Fraser Institute and co-author of this year’s Economic Freedom of North America report, which measures government spending, taxation and labor market restrictions using data from 2018, the latest year of available comparable data.

From 2004 to 2018, the average score for U.S. states in the all-government index fell from 8.31 to 7.97. Across North America, the least-free quartile of jurisdictions had an average per-capita income 8.1 percent below the national average compared to 4.6 percent above the national average for the most-free quartile.

“Higher levels of economic freedom lead to more opportunity, more prosperity, greater economic growth, more investment and jobs,” said Dean Stansel, report co-author and economics professor at Southern Methodist University.

The Economic Freedom of North America report (also co-authored by José Torra, the head of research at the Mexico City-based Caminos de la Libertad) is an offshoot of the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World index, the result of more than a quarter century of work by more than 60 scholars, including three Nobel laureates.

The U.S. edition of the report can be found EFNA-2020-US-POST.

Detailed tables for each country and subnational jurisdiction can be found at

In New Hampshire in October, new coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths all spiked, but the virus had a less harmful impact than in the spring. 

Though October infections set a record, hospitalizations and deaths remained far below their spring and early summer levels. 

Positive test results totaled 2,799 in October, a 182.5% increase from September. The state’s previous high was 2,505 in May. 

The state recorded 36 new hospitalizations in October, a 50% increase from September. 

But September’s 24 new hospitalizations were the second-lowest since the start of the pandemic, leaving October’s hospitalizations far short of the numbers posted in the spring and early summer months. 

October’s 36 hospitalizations were the state’s third-lowest monthly total. The state recorded more than 100 new hospitalizations in May, June and July, and more than 200 in April. 

The state reported 43 new COVID-19 deaths in October, a tremendous 514% increase from September. 

Yet September’s seven deaths were the lowest since the state recorded three in April. October’s deaths were the fourth-lowest monthly total since March. The state recorded 69 deaths in April, 176 in May, and 126 in June. 

Every death in October was of a person age 60 or higher. In fact, no one under age 60 in New Hampshire has died from COVID-19 in September, October or to this point in November. 

The state hit another record in October, conducting its highest number of COVID-19 tests. Total PCR tests reached 273,139 in the month, according to data collected from the state’s daily updates. That includes tests from the University of New Hampshire.

The total number of tests was 21,548 higher than what the state reported in September.* 

October’s test positivity rate was 1.025%.

The October trend lines show that even though infections hit a record, the state was in better shape than in the spring, as the infection rate remained low and the infections resulted in less harm. 

There is no definitive answer for why the virus is resulting in fewer hospitalizations and deaths than in the spring, but there are some theories. 

An obvious factor is that younger, healthier people are being infected, resulting in lower hospitalization and death rates. 

A Wayne State University study released in October found declining viral loads in infected people, possibly suggesting a weakening virus or increased masking and social distancing, resulting in people being infected by smaller doses of the virus.

Masking might be playing a strong role, as a July study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine suggests. The study concluded that mask-wearing basically works to inoculate the wearer, resulting in an infection that causes few or no symptoms.  

If this is true, it would mean that masking can help to reduce both the spread and the severity of the coronavirus. Though there is evidence to support the theory, it is not conclusive. 

What is clear is that the virus has had a less deadly impact in New Hampshire so far this fall than it did in the spring and early summer. 

In the first half of November, infections have continued their steep climb, and the infection rate is more than double October’s, yet deaths are trending down. New hospitalizations appear to be trending slightly upward, though not at the same rate as infections. 

There is no guarantee that these trends will continue. It’s possible that as people move mostly indoors through the depths of the winter, symptomatic infections will spike, or larger percentages of older people will be infected, resulting in higher rates of hospitalization and death. But so far the fall has proven less deadly than many feared.

* The state’s September numbers did not include UNH tests for the first 17 days of the month. UNH does not list its tests per day, so we cannot determine precisely how many total tests were given in September. For that reason, we’re using the state’s reported figures. 

Granite Staters on Tuesday put Republicans in complete control of state government while re-electing every Democratic incumbent at the federal level and giving Joe Bide an 8-point victory over President Donald Trump. 

There are as many possible explanations for this as there are buffet items at the new Golden Corral on South Willow Street in Manchester. There are fewer explanations than there are candy options at Chutters, unless you count conspiracy theories. 

But we aren’t going to get into explanations. We’re going to share some of the more interesting figures, all are official counts from the Secretary of State. 

Ready? Let’s have fun with election numbers!*

(*We don’t promise actual fun.)

Gov. Chris Sununu cemented his status as the state’s most popular politician by pulling a record 518,400 votes. To give an idea of how impressive that is, as of the September primaries there were 998,537 registered voters in the state. (Obviously, same-day registrations added new voters this week, but we don’t have a total count.)

Add the Libertarian candidate’s paltry 11,328 votes, and the Republican and Libertarian votes combined more than doubled the 263,988 votes received by Democratic nominee Dan Feltes. 

This is in a year when Democrats had 324,778 registered voters in September to Republicans’ 303,057. (Undeclared registrations were 370,702.)

Sununu’s 65% of the vote doesn’t top former Gov. John Lynch’s 70% in 2008 or 74% in 2006. Lynch, incredibly popular, remains the king as measured by percentage of the vote. 

But Lynch was helped by a Democratic wave in 2006 that saw Carol Shea-Porter and Paul Hodes elected to Congress, and another in 2008 that saw those two re-elected, Jeanne Shaheen elected to the U.S. Senate, and Barack Obama winning New Hampshire on his way to the White House.

Lynch would have dominated anyway, but he might’ve wound up with slightly lower percentages without a strong ticket. 

By the way, Hodes, the former member of Congress from the 2nd Congressional District, lost in this year’s state Senate District 15 primary by 724 votes.  

Also by the way, the Libertarian candidate for governor got 31,243 votes in 2016, riding Gary Johnson’s pot-flavored coattails. 

Sununu has grown more popular each election, which is unusual for a New Hampshire governor. He won with 49% of the vote in 2016, 53% in 2018, and 65% in 2020. 

President Trump also increased his performance from four years before, but so did the Democratic presidential nominee, and by a lot more. 

The president improved his 2016 performance by 19,870 votes, taking 365,660 votes in 2020. That would have been more than enough to win New Hampshire four years ago. But Joe Biden took the state last week with 424,937 votes, a gain of 76,4211 over Hillary Clinton’s 348,526 in 2016.

This is after Biden came in fifth in the presidential primary earlier this year, drawing only 24,944 votes, 51,390 less than winner Bernie Sanders’ total of 76,384.

Sununu outperformed Trump by 152,740 votes. 

Sununu did this by drawing large support from independents and Democrats, showing the power of bipartisan appeal. 

Since 2016, an additional 53,323 Granite Staters registered as Democrats. Republicans gained just 7,370 new voters. Another 18,718 people registered as undeclared. 

Trump did outperform Republican U.S. Senate nominee Corky Messner by 39,431 votes. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen outperformed Messner by 124,542 votes. Shaheen’s 450,771 was second only to Sununu. It was 67,629 short of Sununu’s total, suggesting that a Sununu-Shaheen matchup might have ended Shaheen’s long, popular career in elected office. 

The five member Executive Council flipped from 3-2 Democrat to 4-1 Republican, with only District 2 staying Democratic. The closest race, not surprisingly, was in District 5, where Dave Wheeler beat Deb Pignatelli by just 1,227 votes. 

The state Senate flipped from 14-10 Democrat to 14-10 Republican. In District 9, Republican Denise Ricciardi won by 409 votes, and in District 11 Republican Gary Daniels won by 198 votes. In District 12, Republican Kevin Avard won by 805 votes. Democrats are requesting recounts in all three races.

Total voter turnout was an unprecedented 814,092, obliterating the 2016 record of 755,850.

It also was a record for absentee ballots, with 261,062 cast. In a few towns, including Hanover and Bedford, absentee ballots outnumbered in-person ballots. 

In Coos County, two towns — Greens Grant and Pinkham’s Grant — had only a single voter. Both voted in person.

And that’s probably enough numbers for one newsletter. 

But before we go, a politician/numbers joke.

How many politicians does it take to change a lightbulb?

Well, I takes 1 to introduce the Act to Change The Lightbulb, 16 to serve on the Committee to Study the Changing of Lightbulbs, 9 to pass the bill out of committee, 4 to argue in favor of the bill on the House floor, 12 to denounce the bill as harmful to the general public, 189 to pass the bill, 5 to study it in the Senate, 3 to vote it out of committee, 2 to argue in favor on the Senate floor, 4 to argue that we do just fine with the bulbs we have, thank you very much, 13 to pass it, and one to veto the bill. So the answer is zero. 

See, wasn’t that fun?!

This week, New Hampshire’s initial unemployment claims fell below 2,000 for the first time since March. And the state’s positive PCR coronavirus test rate edged up past 1% for the first time since the state started increasing its testing and calculating the percent-positive rate late this summer. Whether the state can keep the former trend going depends on how the latter is handled. 

It’s hard to overstate the importance of keeping the economy from sliding back into a recession. Contrary to the sentiments of delusional anti-capitalists who blithely assert that the economy can be sacrificed indefinitely for the purpose of crushing the virus, a thriving economy is a tremendous social good and ought to be a top governmental priority. 

When profits evaporate, so do jobs. When jobs evaporate, people suffer, especially those in the most vulnerable financial positions. 

As the National Institutes of Health has documented, people who lose their jobs suffer from higher stress and more medical ailments. As the Urban Institute documented after the last great recession:

“Being out of work for six months or more is associated with lower well-being among the long- term unemployed, their families, and their communities. Each week out of work means more lost income. The long-term unemployed also tend to earn less once they find new jobs. They tend to be in poorer health and have children with worse academic performance than similar workers who avoided unemployment. Communities with a higher share of long-term unemployed workers also tend to have higher rates of crime and violence.” 

Before the coronavirus hit New Hampshire, weekly unemployment claims were consistently below 1,000 per week. The state’s economy was an employment machine, allowing Granite Staters, both blue and white collar, to enjoy the dignity of work and self-sufficiency.

The lockdown caused unemployment claims to spike from 642 to 29,379 in a single week. Claims surpassed 30,000 for the next two weeks before starting to decline in April. As the economy slowly opened, unemployment claims fell and are now just under triple their pre-pandemic level (1,880 this week vs. 642 the week of March 14).

Some economic sectors remain in dire circumstances (think hospitality), but the economy as a whole has clawed its way back throughout the summer and is well positioned to continue growing. Locking down the economy again would be an economic and humanitarian disaster. 

In the second quarter, New Hampshire’s GDP declined by 36.9%. Another economic hit even close to that would devastate not just the state’s employers, but its non-profits, local governments, and the state budget. 

Businesses make the economy run, and the economy includes non-profits and government. Business profits make it possible for people to pay their mortgages and grocery bills, but also to pay their property taxes, donate to non-profits and churches, and generate the revenue that keeps schools open, roads maintained, and social services funded. 

Business taxes make up the largest single source of revenue for the state budget, accounting for $805.6 million of the state’s $2.6 billion in general and education fund revenue in 2019. The next-largest source, excluding property taxes retained locally, is the rooms and meals tax at $350.1 million. And of course strong rooms and meals tax revenue depends on a healthy hospitality industry. 

Other major taxes — the interest and dividends tax, the insurance tax, the communications tax, the tobacco tax — all depend on businesses to be successful and profitable. Even state liquor sales are business-dependent. The state doesn’t make liquor. It sells liquor and wine made by the private sector. 

Keeping the economy from collapsing again is mission critical for New Hampshire’s employers and for state and local governments. That’s why the governor’s order this week requiring restaurants to collect contact information from patrons was an encouraging sign. 

After several COVID-19 clusters associated with restaurants, the governor could have ordered restaurants closed, as some European countries are doing. Instead, at the request of the New Hampshire Restaurant Association, the governor ordered contact tracing. 

The goal of the order is two-fold. One, it reduces, if not ends, the state alerts that ask people who patronized a cluster-associated restaurant to come forward. Those alerts cause alarm and discourage people from going out to eat. They hurt all restaurants, which hurts the entire industry, making it more likely that struggling restaurants will close permanently. They also hurt the state budget by reducing rooms and meals tax revenue. 

Two, the order allows for quicker contact tracing, which can curtail the spread of the virus, helping to avoid other clusters or outbreaks. That, in turn, helps keep the broader economy open. 

COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths are expected to continue rising this fall and winter. The state’s response must not be a broad economic shutdown. They are devastating, and if Europe is an indication they are likely to be ineffective as people revolt against their restrictions. If another lockdown is to be avoided, the state and the people have to focus on suppressing clusters and outbreaks. 

The state can do only so much if people don’t take responsibility for their own behavior. As with most any other government intrusion in the name of public health, safety or welfare, if individuals decide to do their share, there will be less for the government to do on their behalf.