As of July, the average hourly wage for private employment in New Hampshire was $26.22, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

In February, New Hampshire recorded its highest average hourly wage on record, $26.89. (The Federal Reserve data show New Hampshire wages regularly peaking in winter, dropping a bit in summer.)

Even counting for inflation, New Hampshire’s real per capita personal income is up more than $4,000 since the recession.

Hillsborough County was in the top ten counties in the country for wage growth last year, and New Hampshire was among the top five states, according to Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data released in August.

Amid all of this good news, activists and some politicians are telling everyone that things are bad for the simple reason that state law doesn’t mandate a higher entry-level wage.

This fixation on government mandates rather than the actual economy is a really telling difference in the way some people view the world. On one side, people look around and say, “things are good!” On the other, people bury their heads in statute books and say, “things are terrible!”

The “things are terrible” crowd is pushing again to raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour. As always, the central assertion is that $7.25 an hour (New Hampshire’s minimum wage is the federal minimum) is not a ‘living wage.”

This is where the gap between the actual economy and economic notions expressed in law grows very wide.

The state Labor Market Information Bureau has compiled U.S. Census estimates for the number of people working at or below the minimum wage in New Hampshire. (Tipped jobs can pay below the minimum.) The data (based on surveys) show only 8,004 Granite Staters working at the minimum-wage or less in 2017.

That’s really low. In fact, it’s a 48 percent decline from the 15,284 Granite Staters estimated to have worked a minimum wage job in 2016. (The number for 2015 was 15,845.)

Why the drop? We don’t know yet. And because of the small sample sizes, it’s possible that a sizable chunk of the decline is a measurement error. Next year’s data will help fill out the picture. But even if 50 percent of the drop is a reporting error, New Hampshire would still have only about 11,600 people working at or below the minimum wage. That’s out of a working-age population of around 913,000, according to Census figures.

At the current estimate of 8,004 people, less than 1 percent of New Hampshire’s working-age population makes the minimum wage or less.

The data further show that 73.5 percent of Granite Staters making the minimum wage or less work in “food preparation and serving-related occupations.”

Tips, commissions and overtime pay are not included in the minimum wage figures, so the actual take-home pay of about three-fourths of New Hampshire employees who are classified as minimum-wage workers will be considerably higher than the minimum wage.

The Census estimates also show that 3,951 people, or 49.4 percent, of Granite Staters who make the minimum wage or less are between the ages of 16-24. These are high school and college-age employees with fewer skills and limited experience.

And experience, as in axe throwing or being Jose Canseco, is a key factor. Looking at the lowest-paying sector, food preparation and serving-related occupations, we see an entry-level wage of $8.36 an hour, a mean wage of $10.55 an hour, and an experienced wage of $13.76 an hour —just $1.24 an hour less than the $15 an hour wage some activists and politicians are demanding.

This tells us that wages are not a measure of a person’s moral worth or dignity, but of economic value. Employers pay inexperienced teens less than experienced adults for reasons that ought to be obvious to anyone who’s ever had a job or waited in line at a McDonald’s. And they pay higher wages to attract better employees.

Even in the fast food industry, competition for good employees is driving up wages so that the minimums in many paces are $10 an hour or higher.

More than doubling the minimum wage to $15 an hour would have a relatively small effect on the pay of experienced employees even in the lowest-paid industries. But it would have a big effect on entry-level positions, effectively pricing younger, less-experienced people out of those jobs.

In an economy in which employers are voluntarily raising wages, we are being told that the government must mandate a very high wage floor, which gets us back to the point about markets vs. laws.

Laws are expressions of moral values. Markets are expressions of economic values (mostly). Even when markets are pushing pay rates higher, people who view the world a certain way find this unacceptable precisely because it does not come from a moral directive.

For the conspicuously virtuous, everything all the time has to be an expression of moral values. Markets don’t operate that way. They consider tradeoffs, which the conspicuously virtuous rarely do. Everything is black and white, good or bad.

So even if markets are driving wages higher, society must act collectively to mandate that wages never fall below whatever the virtuous wage floor of the moment is. Refusal to pass such a mandate is considered a society-wide moral failure.

Or to put it in the contemporary vernacular, minimum wages are virtue signaling.

Every time you pay your electricity or heating bill, you’re lighting your money on fire. That is, you’re trading money for the energy released by burning some combustible material — natural gas, home heating oil, wood pellets, etc. So in effect, you’re burning your money.

That’s OK, it’s how a market economy works. You don’t make your own clothes or slaughter your own food or build your own home by hand, you pay other people to do those things. (Excepting some of you in the North Country.) When you trade money for energy, you’re basically burning money. The priority, then, is to burn as little of it as possible.

In New Hampshire, politicians keep preventing you from doing that. In fact, they continue to force you to burn more money for electricity than you would otherwise choose to burn.

On Thursday, legislators overrode Gov. Chris Sununu’s veto of Senate Bill 365. The bill forces electric utility companies to buy power at above-market rates from the state’s six biomass power plants and municipal solid waste incinerators.

The bill’s own fiscal note projected that it would cause electricity rates to rise by between $15 million and $20 million a year. So legislators knew exactly what they were doing. They knowingly voted to make you burn more of your money than necessary when buying electricity.

They’re very practiced at this. Over the years, legislators have passed one law after another to prohibit electric utilities from buying power at the lowest available price.

All of these costs add up. Here are just two examples.

A 2015 study by the Beacon Hill Institute found that New Hampshire’s Renewable Portfolio Standards would raise electricity prices by 3.7 percent by 2025, for a total impact of $70 million.

A previous biomass subsidy bill passed just last year, SB 129, also forced utilities to buy additional power from biomass plants. Its costs were estimated at around $75 million to $100 million.

To understand how these mandates make electricity more expensive, imagine you’re a cave man who needs to build a fire. Og is willing to offer you a bundle of wood he chopped himself for one rabbit pelt. Unk is offering you a bundle of organic, cured, and deodorized buffalo chips for one rabbit pelt and a handful of arrow heads.

You just need a fire. You’ve got a fresh squirrel in your deer-skin sack, you’re hungry, and you’ve got to make a new spear to replace the one you lost when that mammoth ran off with it dangling from its side. (WHY WON”T THOSE THINGS JUST DIE??) So you turn to Og.

At that moment, the clan’s code enforcement officer strides up to remind you of the clan leader’s decree that everyone has to use organic buffalo chips as a fuel source once a week. (Unk is the clan leader’s cousin.) You used wood every day this week. You’ve got to buy the dung.

You give Unk your worst arrow heads, naturally, but now you’re out all those arrow heads and will have to make more. You’re no warmer than you were before. The fire didn’t cook your meat any better. It just cost more because someone with power ordered you to support the organic dung industry.

There are other ways politicians and regulators force prices higher. They can even be politicians and regulators in neighboring states.

Across the country, electricity prices have fallen thanks to the natural gas boom. But the prices fall faster and farther in places where politicians don’t block pipeline construction. In New England (and New York), politicians and regulators have made it extremely difficult to build new pipelines.

As ISO New England has pointed out, though natural gas power generation has grown tremendously in in the last 20 years, “the natural gas pipelines that deliver low-cost shale gas into the region have not been expanded at a commensurate pace.”

Public policy is a major reason why New Hampshire has the fifth-highest electric rates in the country.

Politicians could immediately lower those rates by repealing laws and withdrawing regulations that prohibit utilities from buying power at the lowest available market price.

Instead, legislators continue to add new laws that push prices ever higher.

Utilities want to sell us power for less money. They would if they could. But the state forbids it. This needs to stop. We shouldn’t allow our politicians to force us to light our own money on fire.

New Hampshire Public Radio reported this week on a study showing that rural New Englanders pay a higher percentage of their income on energy. This isn’t really new information. But it was a slow news week and the report’s recommended solutions seemed written to get NPR listeners to spill their morning coffees from their pledge drive mugs from all the vigorous head nodding.

The study concluded that Americans on average spend 3.3 percent of their income on energy, but for rural households the burden rises to 4.4 percent. In New England, rural households spend 5.1 percent.

The proposed solution? Energy efficiency projects. It’s probably a total coincidence that the report was released by a group called the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

It’s true that making homes more energy efficient reduces energy use, thus reducing bills. ISO New England, the non-profit that runs New England’s energy grid, noted in this year’s Operational Fuel-Security Analysis that New England states have collectively spent more than $1 billion to improve energy efficiency, slightly tapering energy demand.

Since 2005, electricity demand in New England has fallen from a combination of the recession, milder weather, increased adoption of small-scale solar power, and energy efficiency investments, according to ISO New England.

Yet energy remains extremely expensive and the region remains at risk of rolling blackouts during periods of peak demand. Another billion dollars on energy efficiency could help shrink demand a little more, but it’s not going to solve the cost and supply problems.

To ensure enough capacity for peak demand times and to bring down prices for everyone — from low-income rural households to major manufacturers — we need more infrastructure and fewer rate-raising regulations like subsidies for politically favored power producers.

ISO New England projects a 4,600 megawatt reduction in power generation capacity by June of 2021. But states and communities are rejecting the construction the new infrastructure needed to replace those megawatts.

ISO New England figures show that in 2000, coal and oil generated 40% of New England’s electricity, and natural gas just 15%. By 2015, natural gas generated 49% and oil and coal just 3%.

Fracking fueled this change. Since 2009, natural gas has become much cheaper than coal and oil (and it produces fewer emissions). But we can’t tap it from maple trees (unfortunately, because flaming maples would be pretty great on Halloween).

We need pipelines to bring natural gas here. Without more pipelines, we’ll continue seeing high prices and more ships from Russia and other energy exporting countries docking in Boston.

In recent years, pipeline projects have been rejected throughout New England with such animosity that you’d think they were importing emerald ash borers or New York Yankees players. For proposing to bring enough fuel to ensure that Red Sox Nation survives winter, they’ve been run out of town. That’ll show ‘em.

We’ve artificially restricted our energy supply and raised rates by blocking construction and heavily regulating the sector. This has hurt rural and low-income residents.

And by the way, our housing policies have done the same thing.

Rural residents tend to live in older homes, and older homes are less energy efficient. The subsidized winterizing of old homes is always the recommended approach, but it is not going to address the underlying problem, which —like energy generation — is one of artificially restricted supply.

Home construction costs are at record highs because of rising labor costs, land costs, lumber costs, credit costs, and regulations. Every one of these costs is being driven higher by government policies — from immigration to tariffs to zoning to building codes to financial regulations. Regulatory costs account for 24 percent of the price of a new home, according to a National Association of Home Builders study.

If we scaled back housing, labor, land use, trade, and energy regulations, we would see energy and home construction prices rise less quickly or even fall. People of all income levels could better afford to buy, heat, and live in new homes.

But untangling those regulatory webs is difficult. It’s simpler to ask legislators to meddle in the markets by passing laws to shield lower-income residents from the consequences of the legislators’ past meddling.

How many lumberjacks live in New Hampshire?

Given the debate over Gov. Chris Sununu’s vetoes of two bills to further subsidize the state’s forest products industry, it’s an important question. No one seems to know the answer.

Supporters of the two bills, Senate Bills 365 and 446, say the subsidies would save 900 jobs. Sometimes they say 1,000 jobs. These figures are supposed to include people who depend on the forest products industry for their own livelihoods.

Maybe. But state data show only about 400 people employed in forestry and logging in New Hampshire. That’s down from the high 400s a decade ago.

Some of those good folks showed up in Concord on Thursday to demand that legislators override Gov. Chris Sununu’s vetoes and add even more subsidies to the already subsidized biomass and solar power industries. This is corporate welfare dressed in flannel.

Legislators know that a direct state subsidy of the state’s dwindling number of biomass plants, financed by tax increases, would be a non-starter. So they found another way to pay for this corporate giveaway: Hide the costs in everyone’s utility bills.

Both bills force utilities to pay above-market rates for electricity, thus raising prices for consumers. Because the rate increases would be mandated by law, they’d have the same effect as a tax hike. But because they’d be hidden in your electricity bill, they wouldn’t show up on any list of new taxes.

Nice trick.

The state Public Utilities Commission estimated that SB 365 would cost the average commercial utility customer in New Hampshire an extra $5.15 a month, which comes to $75.60 a year. In total, the bill would cost ratepayers about $20 million annually.

Utility customers would get nothing in return for that extra $20 million. It’s just a mandatory price increase. Instead of buying electricity from the lowest-cost producer, utilities would have to buy some of it from the state’s biomass plants, which can’t produce electricity as cheaply as their competitors can.

SB 446 would further increase electricity rates (by an undetermined amount) by letting these biomass plants and other producers build large-scale solar systems — and then forcing utilities to buy that solar power at inflated prices.

These aren’t just subsidies. They’re laws that forbid utilities from buying power at the best rates.

It’s critical to understand that because these bills never became law, upholding the governor’s vetoes takes nothing away from the forest products industry in New Hampshire. It simply means that ratepayers aren’t forced to pay them tens of millions of dollars more each year for the exact same product — electricity — that can be purchased from other providers at a lower cost.

Supporters say the bills are needed to save jobs. But jobs are plentiful in New Hampshire right now. What they really mean is that they’d like everyone to pay more for electricity so about 400 people can keep very specific jobs.

The unemployment rate is 3.2 percent in Coos County, 2.3 percent in Carroll County and 2.1 percent in Grafton County. The economy is galloping like wildlife fleeing the booming steps of Paul Bunyon. The issue is not whether jobs are available in the most thickly forested parts of New Hampshire. They are.

The issue is whether the state should forcibly confiscate tens of millions of dollars a year from 1.3 million people in an attempt to preserve specific jobs for about 400 people.

At about $20 million a year, SB 365 alone would generate enough money to pay each person in the forestry and logging industry roughly $50,000. Tuition at Harvard University this fall is $46,340.

If legislators override the governor’s vetoes, they will force Granite Staters to pay enough money in utility overcharges to purchase a Harvard degree for every forest and logging industry worker in the state every four years.

But instead of buying Harvard degrees or any other form of education or training to enable folks in a struggling industry to better survive a changing labor market, Granite Staters will be freezing a few hundred jobs in time — as the world continues to move on. That’s not a good use of $80 million.

These bills also would hurt Granite Staters who are even worse off than the people in the forest products industry. Higher electricity rates will eat into the budgets of low-income residents as well as manufacturers and other businesses. At 7.3 percent, New Hampshire has the lowest poverty rate in the country. But that still comes to about 95,000 Granite Staters living below the poverty level. To provide a handout to 400 employed people, these bills would take money from scores of thousands of low-income people, many of whom have worse employment prospects.

Subsidies can sound nice and compassionate. Most people want to help their fellow man. But subsidies aren’t just help. Unlike free trade, in which both parties win by getting something they want at an agreed-to price, subsidies help some by harming others. They do this because they force people against their will to pay for something they neither want nor need (in this case, high-priced electricity). That’s not compassion; that’s compulsion.

Labor Day weekend is a time for last trips to the beach, first trips to apple orchards, and getting into heated political arguments over the role organized labor in the 21st century.

Ah, autumn.

This is the first Labor Day after the U.S. Supreme Court’s famous June 27 Janus decisionin which the court held that “(t)he First Amendment is violated when money is taken from nonconsenting employees for a public-sector union; employees must choose to support the union before anything is taken from them.”

The media’s instant reaction was to predict huge financial losses for unions. That’s a reasonable short-term take. A Josiah Bartlett Center right-to-know request found this summer that unions representing New Hampshire state employees stand to lose $1 million a year in agency fees they had been confiscating from non-union employees.

But the Janus ruling also presents a growth opportunity for public-sector unions.

By devoting themselves so wholeheartedly to political activism, public-sector unions have alienated members of the public as well as many government employees who might otherwise be inclined to join.

In a state like New Hampshire, where state and local government employees are often registered Republicans (including the current and immediate past chairmen of the state Republican Party), partisan political activity can serve to suppress union membership.

Yet, as Josiah Bartlett Center President Andrew Cline writes in a column published in USA Today this weekend:

“Public sector unions can serve either their members or the Democratic Party, not both. On a Labor Day weekend more than two months after a stinging Supreme Court defeat, it isn’t clear that their leaders realize this yet.”

Union leaders don’t seem to realize something critical about the Janus ruling: It created a competitive marketplace for public-sector union representation.

Now that public-sector unions can no longer rely on forced financial support from unwilling government employees, they must behave as other organizations in competitive marketplaces do.

“To win new members,” Cline writes, “they have to prove that they offer public employees a valuable service at a great price. If they do that, the can not only survive, they can also grow.”

Please read the whole column online here as you’re taking that last stroll on some sandy shore or stuffing your mouth with delicious grilled meat. It’s the perfect way to show your friends and family that you’re dedicated to maintaining the true spirit of Labor Day as they try to get you to pay attention to them.

New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine are so white that if a map of the United States were colored according to the skin pigmentation of its residents, Northern New England would look like a snow-covered peak. We could go as a ghost for Halloween without even dressing up. And that’s a potential problem.

Some New Hampshire business and civic leaders recently held a conference to discuss ways to make the state more diverse. This drew nationwide media coverage, including a story in The New York Times. And a lot of shouting. When it comes to anything that touches on race, people really like to shout.

Some of the hostile reactions were knee-jerk racism. Others were labeled racist unfairly. (NHPR summarizes many of the responses here.)

We suspect that had the forum been purely a community or business effort, it would have been little noticed. But once the state gets involved in a cultural initiative, residents have a sense of ownership over it. Government involvement instantly politicizes anything.

People hear that the state is pursuing a diversity initiative, and they read into that all kinds of things. First, they hear the word “race” instead of “diversity.” That’s because the left has conditioned people to think of the latter as a code word for the former.

And because “diversity” has become a political buzzword of the left, it would be easy to assume that the end result, if not the goal, of a diversity initiative would be to make New Hampshire more politically liberal by recruiting people who have a tendency to vote for liberal politicians.

Diversity also implies cultural changes, and that always generates concern that community values will be shifted.

But the message from the forum that generated all the yelling and name calling was decidedly uncontroversial. It’s a message New Hampshire has to take seriously because the state’s future depends on dealing with diversity, broadly defined.

New Hampshire’s economic growth is probably at a turning point. Our tax policy has given us the foundation for having a great economy, but our workforce shortage is threatening our economic future. Simply put, we don’t have enough people.

(People bring not just bodies, but ideas.)

As this newsletter has pointed out before, New Hampshire’s economic growth has for decades been driven not just by low taxes, but by in-migration fueled by those low taxes. That in-migration has slowed, and that’s a huge problem.

Our population is older, our young people prefer to spend early adulthood in more urban areas with higher concentrations of young adults. This is a universal human tendency.

To grow, we need new immigrants. As the nation’s population becomes less white, New Hampshire’s whiteness becomes a potential economic problem. If the state is seen as unwelcoming to non-white Americans, a shrinking percentage of the U.S. population will be interested in moving here.

New Hampshire is not “too white” in any abstract sense. There is no perfect racial or ethnic ratio by which government can judge a state’s population. But the fact that our state is remote, rural, and largely ethnically homogeneous does pose economic challenges.

The term “diversity” has been used for so long as a political weapon that many of us lose sight of its broader meaning. The historical truth is that places that are more open to people from different cultural backgrounds are places that enjoy greater prosperity and create more complex and vibrant cultures of their own.

Great civilizations grow from trade. But it’s not just the economic aspect of trade that benefits a city, state or nation. The exchange of ideas and cultures that comes from a mixing of diverse peoples stimulates new ideas and enterprises. It essentially incubates entrepreneurship and innovation.

This is why remote, mountainous regions of the world are generally less economically prosperous than port cities and communities built at the intersections of trade routes. It’s not just that it’s harder for wagons or ships or trucks to reach those places. It’s that they don’t get to drink from the cultural stew created in the melting pot coastal cities and crossroad communities.

It turns out that diversity itself is a driver of prosperity and growth.

Granite Staters can and should discuss (or shout about) the proper role of the state in pursuing “diversity,” however we choose to define that word. There’s a case to be made that the state shouldn’t try to manage the racial or ethnic makeup of its people in any way because even taking a few small steps down that path is dangerous.

But that doesn’t mean that Granite Staters shouldn’t be concerned about the perception other people have of our great state, and their willingness to move here. Just as New Hampshire’s economy depends on tourism, its economic future depends on the intellectual, cultural and economic exchanges that will or will not take place here in the years to come. Generally speaking, our economic future will be stronger if the people who participate in those exchanges come from a broadly diverse set of backgrounds.

The top two contributors to the re-election campaign of U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., in this quarter are public-sector labor unions: the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Each union has given Rep. Kuster $5,000 this quarter (not 5,000 quarters).

And until June 27, each of those unions used agency fee provisions in their collective bargaining contracts to take money without consent from public employees who did not wish to give it.

The State Employees Association of New Hampshire is otherwise known as SEIU Local 1984. As of June 27, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus vs. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, the SEA was collecting agency fees from 2,104 state employees, according to data obtained by the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy through a state right-to-know request.

An agency fee is money a public-sector union could take out of a non-member’s pay, ostensibly to cover the cost of collective bargaining. Officially, unions could not use agency fees for political activities. But the extra revenue made these organizations larger and more politically powerful, even if they never spent it directly on lobbying, campaign donations or political ads.

Mark Janus, the Illinois state employee who sued AFSME and won his Supreme Court case last month, successfully argued that being forced to contribute to the union violated his First Amendment rights not just because the union endorsed candidates and policies with which he disagreed. He disagreed with the union’s collective bargaining activities too, and its goal of pushing government spending ever higher.

The Supreme Court agreed with him that the “extraction of agency fees from nonconsenting public-sector employees violates the First Amendment.”

On the date of the ruling, 2,161 New Hampshire state employees were unconstitutionally being compelled to pay $37,913.60 per pay period to unions they chose not to join, according to state data.

From July 6, 2017 to July 6, 2018, state employees were forced against their will to contribute a total of $1,012,055.83 from their paychecks to just two unions, the State Employees Association and the Teamsters.

The payroll records show that through unconstitutional contracts that allowed the state to collect union fees from non-members, public-sector unions in New Hampshire were able to inflate their budgets by nearly 1/5 and their number of financial contributors by nearly 1/3.

This was a forced transfer of money and power from individual state employees to labor unions. That transfer compelled employees to support political positions they did not consent to support.

The Janus ruling made those agency fee clauses immediately null. As a result, individual state employees will have greater leverage when deciding whether to join a union. From now on, the choice of whether any of their pay goes to support a labor union is theirs and theirs alone.

Economic progress, like progress in any field, cannot be achieved by freezing the status quo in place. Government attempts to do so result only in delaying rather than advancing progress.

Following Gov. Chris Sununu’s June 19 veto of two bills to subsidize New Hampshire’s biomass power plants, three of those plants announced that they were winding down their operations. Some blame the governor for the plants going idle. That’s like blaming the National Endowment of the Arts for the demise of jazz.

Jazz, once America’s dominant form of music, in 2014 tied classical as the least popular genre. Chuck Berry, a huge jazz fan, released Maybellene in 1955, dooming the genre that put the “roll” in rock ’n’ roll.

Musical tastes changed, and no subsidy from Washington elites could’ve protected the big bands of the 1940s or the quartets of the 1950s from the rock ’n’ roll revolution.

In the economy, industries rise and fall too, moved by forces that are beyond the control of public officials or elite taste-makers.

The forest products industry in New Hampshire has suffered a decades-long decline triggered by cultural and economic changes no government meddling can reverse.

In 1957, when Berry released his classic song “Rock and Roll Music,” 7,810 people were employed in paper manufacturing in Coos County alone. By 2013, when Robin Thicke topped the charts with “Blurred Lines,” UNH’s Cooperative Extension service reportedthat 7,756 people were employed in the forest products, maple and Christmas tree sectors combined in the entire state. That year, 3,000 more people were employed in forest-based tourism occupations than in production.

(By the way, by 2013 rock ’n’ roll had all but vanished from the Billboard Hot 100, replaced by pop and hip-hop. Only one rock band, Paramore, had a year-end top 100 song that year. If only federal taxpayers had subsidized Guns n Roses….)

Cake, one of the last great alternative rock bands, had a single on its last album called “Federal Funding” in which it mocked government funding for the well-connected. Cake got it what many people don’t. Government subsidies benefit political insiders at the expense of everyone else.

No one wants loggers to lose jobs they love. But the notion that the state’s timber industry can be saved by forcing electricity ratepayers to subsidize a handful of inefficient biomass power plants was never based in a realistic assessment of the New Hampshire economy, the forest products industry, basic economics or clever alternative rock lyrics.

New Hampshire’s economy has evolved over the centuries, as all economies have done since the rise of capitalism and democratic governance. Subsidies for favored industries can only delay the inevitable, and at a high cost.

A report last year concluded that Maine has spent $250 million to prop up its fading biomass industry. New Hampshire, which has for years forced electricity ratepayers to subsidize the industry, would make its economy weaker, not stronger, by continuing this practice.

Biomass plants are in trouble because it’s cheaper to create electricity by burning natural gas than by burning wood. If forcing people and businesses to buy more expensive wood-generated electricity was good for the economy, then we would have the best economy in the country simply by passing laws mandating that people buy only New Hampshire-made goods and services.

Imagine. Instead of driving dangerous automobiles, we could all be riding around in luxurious Concord Coaches. Instead of using national airline companies, we could sail to Europe on gorgeous tall ships built in Portsmouth. Sure, it would be hugely expensive and wasteful for consumers, but think of all the jobs that would be saved!

Sadly, that’s not how the economy works. States can only hurt economic growth by forcing people to pay higher prices for locally made goods and services.

Trying to freeze some economic sectors in time is never good policy, but it’s especially bad when the state has so many job openings that it’s experiencing a severe worker shortage. The best move is to let people transition from jobs in declining industries to jobs that are in higher demand and offer a brighter future.

The case advocates make for reauthorizing expanded Medicaid is exactly the same as the case for rejecting it: Nearly 53,000 Granite Staters are now dependent on the program.

Supporters don’t use the word “dependent.” They say people “rely on” Medicaid. Functionally, the meanings are the same, like “inebriated” and “intoxicated” or “asparagus” and “disgusting.” Expanded Medicaid has made 52,726 Granite Staters (as of March 31) dependent on government health insurance.

Of course, as the dart said to the dartboard when it complained about the pain, “that was the point.”

When New Hampshire passed expanded Medicaid in 2014, state Sen. Andy Sanborn, R-Bedford, said “I have never seen, in the political realm, any entitlement program ever end. And I think the suggestion that they would end is frankly ludicrous.”

The votes for expanded Medicaid would appear to bear that out.

In 2014, Medicaid Expansion passed the Republican-controlled state Senate 18-5 and the Democratic-controlled House 202-132.

In 2016, Republicans controlled both chambers. Reauthorization passed 216-145 in the House and 16-8 in the Senate.

This year, with Republicans again in charge, reauthorization passed 17-7 in the Senate and 222-125 in the initial House vote, with the final outcome this week so obvious that the House passed the bill on a voice vote.

Such consistent support can be explained by the program’s constituency of dependents, which reaches every community. Supporters on Wednesday roamed the State House wearing T-shirts that stated how many people in their town were on expanded Medicaid.

It doesn’t matter that the Medicaid population is not static. A UNH study found that 29 percent of New Hampshire’s expanded Medicaid population stayed in the program for two full years. The biggest reason people left was that a rising income made them ineligible. (Watch for this to eventually be the basis for an argument to further expand eligibility.)

What matters is that tens of thousands of people at any given time depend upon the government, rather than the private sector, for their health insurance. That’s enough to make it permanent.

There are only two ways New Hampshire legislators will rethink keeping this program. One is if the federal government announces a reduction in federal support so large and so sudden that the state cannot absorb the cost or reduce eligibility enough to avoid the immediate creation of a massive broad-based tax. Even then, it might stay.

The other is if the health insurance markets are reformed to the point that competition explodes and premium prices collapse, falling to levels that are affordable for low-income families. Again, even then it might stay.

OK, there’s also a third way expanded Medicaid could end. SMOD could strike New Hampshire and destroy everything.

Housing and utilities comprise the largest portion of household budgets. In only nine other states and the District of Columbia do residents spend more on those two items than Granite Staters do, per Bureau of Economic Analysis data. Yet legislators have not been keen to reduce those costs for the people who elect them.

On the contrary, they often prefer to pass laws that make those items more expensive.

So the release this week of a new 10-Year State Energy Strategy that set cost efficiency as its primary goal was a big deal. The previous strategy, set in 2014, focused on manipulating energy markets to favor expensive and inefficient priorities such as renewable energy, with little attention given to the cost that would fall to consumers.

To understand the magnitude of the shift, imagine a hippie folk rock act ditching the acoustic guitars, cutting their hair and putting out an R&B album — a good R&B album.

“Addressing energy costs is a critical goal for New Hampshire. Expensive energy – or pursuing policies that raise the cost of energy – directly and negatively impacts New Hampshire families and businesses and the quality of life in our state,” the new energy plan states. “As such, the priority of this Strategy is to organize goals around cost-effective energy policies.”

The plan does not oppose all subsidies for renewable energy initiatives. It does advocate limiting any such subsidies to the start-up period to prevent ongoing cost-shifting.

This consumer-focused approach to energy policy is at odds with several bills in the Legislature this session to continue or expand subsidies of inefficient biomass power plants. Senate Bill 446 would further subsidize biomass facilities and solar arrays. Senate Bill 365 would further subsidize biomass facilities. Senate Bill 577 would further subsidize biomass facilities.

The permanent ratcheting up of electricity rates by compelling ratepayers to subsidize politically favored businesses is a long-standing New Hampshire practice. The new energy strategy discourages this. Its focus on lowering rates has drawn praise from the state’s ratepayer advocate. Whether legislators will respond by reconsidering their support for higher rates is the question.

Local housing regulations vs. consumers

As with energy, housing costs are rising when they could be stabilizing. There is huge demand for new housing in New Hampshire, and builders are eager to fill it. The problem is that local regulations make it extremely difficult to build new homes or apartments to respond quickly to surges in demand.

Those regulations also add costs that make it hard, if not impossible, in many communities to build residences that lower-income families can afford.

New Hampshire’s average monthly rental rates are higher than Maine’s, Vermont’s and Rhode Island’s and are comparable to Connecticut’s. Average rental rates in Connecticut are only $68 higher than in New Hampshire for a one bedroom and $63 higher for a two-bedroom. Median rents in Manchester are higher than in many larger cities such as Philadelphia, Atlanta and Orlando.

With a booming economy, thousands more jobs than we can fill, and a statewide rental vacancy rate below 5 percent for 18 of the last 20 years and below 2 percent for the last years, the rate of home construction in the state should be rising aggressively. It is rising, but not at rates that would come close to filling demand. Local housing restrictions are in the way.

A fix to help builders navigate these restrictions more quickly and less expensively is offered in Senate Bill 557. It would create a housing appeals board to which developers could appeal decisions of local boards, committees and commissions. Now, appeals go to the superior court. It often takes years for an appeal of a local housing decision to reach a resolution in court.

The housing appeals board would take these appeals out of the court system and resolve them quickly. The board would be required to hold a hearing within 90 days of receiving an appeal and make a decision within 60 days of the hearing. This would dramatically speed the appeals process while eliminating expensive legal costs for both builders and municipalities (taxpayers).

At a hearing in the House Finance Committee this week, no one spoke against the bill and the New Hampshire Municipal Association did not oppose it. Nonetheless, the committee voted to refer it to interim study. It will come before the full House on Thursday.

If legislators followed the lead of the Office of Strategic Initiatives and made reducing costs a top priority in both of these areas, the impact on Granite Staters could be dramatic. Making the state a lower-cost place to live and work would bring economic benefits far exceeding any that could come from propping up obsolete power plants or ignoring the costs of local land use regulations.