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It's Actually Good That Miamians Can't Afford Rent or Groceries, According to Libertarians

Yesterday, the United Way released an utterly bleak study showing nearly 60 percent of Miamians either live beneath the federal poverty line or struggle to afford rent, groceries, and childcare — even though many work full-time. And the number of "working poor" Miamians has dramatically increased over the last decade.

In short, Miami is a massively unequal and unfair place to live if you aren't part of the global 1 percent.

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But don't fret, says the libertarian Reason Foundation, a nonprofit funded heavily by the Koch Brothers and other billionaire oligarchs. Everything you hate about Miami's economic and political structure is actually good and working just fine!

Miami is actually the seventh-most "economically free" city in America, the foundation claims. Florida cities ranked as the freest in the nation. Four towns — Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, and Miami — all made the top ten. What does economic freedom mean to billionaires? Very little of the following: taxes, government spending, minimum wage, union membership, and government employment. On the same day the United Way statistics showed it stinks to be a middle earner in the state, the Brevard Times parroted the Reason Foundation's report and proudly declared that Florida cities "have greater economic freedom when compared to other metropolitan areas throughout the United States."

The foundation claims these "economically free" cities also have greater "economic prosperity."

"Simple statistical analysis indicates that metropolitan areas with higher economic freedom tend to have higher per capita incomes and faster population growth, which mirrors such prosperity metrics found in research on nations and states," the report reads.

But that's somewhat confusing since many of the cities on the list don't rank well when it comes to income. Houston, the list's number-one city, is 68th nationally in per-capita income, according to 2010 U.S. Census data. Jacksonville, the second-highest city, ranks 66th. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Palm Beach metro region comes in at 103rd. In fact, when you adjust for inflation, Miami's incomes are actually lower now than in 1970.

The top-scoring area? Washington, D.C., which was criticized in the same Reason study for enacting a city-level minimum-wage law that forced business owners to pay workers livable salaries.

It appears the Koch brothers' economic freedom doesn't mean prosperity and security for all residents, but freedom for business leaders to be unbothered by taxes and regulations. The Reason Foundation's definition of "freedom" is based wholly on whether a city has regulations that annoy wealthy business owners. The foundation termed minimum-wage laws that force corporations to pay living wages "burdensome" to profits. The study seems to think it curtails freedom to allow unions that might, say, declare a strike if a CEO wanted to cut medical benefits. Moreover, states scored higher if they have "right-to-work" laws (like Florida's) that aim to undercut unions.

This is ideological nonsense passed off as economic science. Who's to say Miami residents are freer than those in our nation's capital? Liberty should not mean being stuck working two jobs to pay for childcare and health insurance. Wouldn't universal health coverage or a functioning public-transit system allow more people to be free?

It's obvious, of course, why the study is set up as it is: The Reason Foundation is heavily subsidized by the Kochs, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, and other right-wing billionaires who desperately oppose taxes on their utterly massive fortunes. Florida — a low-tax state where unions are weak and local governments are banned from setting minimum wages — is a billionaire's dream. It's in the interests of people such as the Kochs to reframe laws that let them hoard their wealth as "promoting freedom." News outlets like the Brevard Times just give the Kochs free PR.

This backward ideology permeates Tallahassee politics. Gov. Ron DeSantis, current State House Speaker Jose Oliva (who is from Miami-Dade), and former House Speaker Richard Corcoran have all attended secretive Koch "retreats," where the brothers basically give seminars on their pro-business platform and legislative goals. Florida lawmakers routinely receive "A+" legislative "grades" from the Kochs' main lobbying group, Americans for Prosperity.

This sort of slavery-is-freedom language dominates Florida's political discourse: Oliva, for example, recently lamented that America's healthcare system needs more "free market" forces to work correctly — even though every other developed nation heavily regulates its healthcare system and spends far less than we do for equal or better care. The model that works everywhere else apparently isn't "free" enough.

That's just one absurd example. But it helps explain how Florida's completely dysfunctional economic system continues to exist because of an erroneous definition of freedom.

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