L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 343, October 30, 2005
Tenth Anniversary Edition, Part 5
The Fall of Government
Special to TLE
It seems summer went by in a blink, and it's now that time of year again when leaves color, breezes cool, andlike some bizarre autumn flowercampaign signs bloom in yards everywhere. Even in "off" years, November brings local elections to many of our hometowns, and mine is one of them.
Some very astute, albeit cynical, individual once said that if voting really mattered, it would be illegal. Voting, of course, still does matter at least on relatively local level. The real problem is that those who are tired of politics as usual are doomed to more of it if they keep electing the usual politicians. Those who are tired of high taxes are only picking their own pockets when they vote for special interest candidates or issues.
The place where I live is probably more like than unlike the place you live yourself, and what voters should consider here are exactly the kinds of things they'd be better off to consider in your town, too.
In my city, there are three spots open on the seven-member city commission this year. Nine people are running to take those three seats. While it's a positive sign that so many are interested in serving, it's far less so to hear each of the candidates' campaign promises. Two of those who are running are former commissioners who left the board because of term limits. The problems they claim they'd like the chance to solve are problems they bear some responsibility for helping create in the first place. Two others are special interest candidates with an identical focus, one that, whether needed or not, would leave the rest of the pertinent issues facing the city coming in a distant second and which would alienate at least as many as those who would be pleased.
Without exception, all nine candidates are claiming that they can do a better job than each of the others. While each makes promises of his or her own, those promises often contradict the promises being made by others. If each candidate really knew what was best for the city, wouldn't most of them at least agree? That they don't should tell voters something. Meanwhile, those commissioners already in office bicker amongst themselves and criticize top-ranking city employees while they're at it. Some of the bickering is warranted; so is some of the criticism. Yet neither the candidates nor the commissioners are suggesting, by word or by deed, that anything will change in the near term.
Want to make a real change in local government? Vote for the write-in candidate "none of the above." Or find the candidate with no government experience but a legitimate desire to do his best and, even if you don't agree with all that he claims he wants to do, at least you'll have elected one honest man (or woman) who still has a few years of worthwhile effort in him before he, too, becomes corrupted by compromise.
Better still, get involved yourself. Go to meetings. They're public for a reason. If criticism is warranted, then add what you can, and agree with what you will. If change is needed, then see to it that it happens. Educate others so that they, too, understand what's right and what's wrong with your local government and its officials. Don't rely on campaign promises for the simple reason that the vast majority of campaign promises can't be relied on. We all already know that. Now it's time to stop believing and start doing.
One local arts venue has a tax levy on the ballot this year. It seems that, despite spending many hundreds of thousands of dollars on building refurbishment and add-ons, the entity is now in desperate need of money. No matter what service it offers to the community, should voters really throw more money at an organization that's already shown it doesn't manage its budget well? If there aren't enough patrons to support the venueeither through donations or ticket salesshould all of those who obviously don't care about it be forced to pay for it via an involuntary tax? If it's exhausted its government grant possibilities or been turned down for more funding, should voters really take a risk that the government itself, with its bottomless pockets, finds a poor one?
Such entities that have the capability of self-support should be left alone to do so. And if they can't do it, whether through financial mismanagement or a general lack of interest in whatever service it is they offer, they should close their doors just like any unworthy business enterprise will do. After all, if I make poor financial decisions and become destitute, would you find it acceptable that a friend of mine steals from you to give me more money I can spend inappropriately? Of course not! So why should voters be so sanguine about doing the same for a non-profit group?
As is almost de rigueur for elections nowadays, the local school system also has a tax levy on the ballot. The schools want to build new buildings and get rid of a couple of old ones. Does it need the new buildings? At least one prominent local group opposing the levy says it does notand its contentions are borne out by some convincing statistics.
Are students being harmed via overcrowded classrooms (overcrowded by government definition, not by yours and mine)? There's a study says that students learn at least as well in groups of 30 or more as they do in smaller class sizes (the same study shows a far greater effect on students is directly attributable to how good the teacher is; but to be fair, others show that reduction in class size can be helpful). Regardless, large class sizes are more than manageable by competent teachers who are allowed to do their jobs without incessant politically correct interference.
Do students need air-conditioned classrooms during those few weeks of fall and spring where such might prove necessary? Sure, it would be nice, but I can assure you I went to school in a few very old buildings and never attended an air conditioned classroom in my life; we all did just fine.
Perhaps if the schools were doing a better job, the reward of new facilities might be a consideration. But here, as in far too many places across the country, public education is struggling to meet even the most minimum of requirements. Students are dropping out in appalling numbers; those who do graduate are functionally illiterate at alarming rates. Teachers demand more money and, while the good ones are priceless, tenure and desperation ensures that the bad ones have jobs and salaries they shouldn't. Administrators are thoroughly co-opted by the NEA and local politicians so that, rather than managing education systems, they're stuck managing a fine line between policies that are more geared to offending no one than they are to educating everyone.
The bottom line is that student success has less to do with buildings and class size than with responsibility and discipline. But no amount of taxpayer dollars will make parents take up their duties again, nor will it permit teachers to do their jobs by administering discipline as needed. So why give more money to address some symptom or another rather than addressing something that might really fix the problem? Because, no doubt, it's easier. Besides, said one of my friends to me just the other day while admonishing me to vote in favor of the levy: "It's for the children!" Of course, it should also be noted that she sends her only child to a private school...
Schools are finally beginning to be sent a message if not grasping quite yet the meaning of it: Levies, which have historically passed handily whenever schools were involved, are now starting to fail almost as often as not. That's a good thing. Just as failing a class used to teach kids something, so should failing levies have meaning to school systems. Our job as voters is to be sure we send them that message until such time as we're satisfied it's getting through.
Some people like to vote for the usual politicians because, after all, they've at least got some experience on their résumés. Some are shamed into voting for certain special interests because they're "for the children" or some other worthy cause. But the most important thing for all of us to remember is this: Voters have a voice when ballots are counted. They have an even louder voice when they speak up.
Government these days is into far too many things. Schools were better before they were government operated. Free enterprise has historically provided everything from power to water to maintenance more efficiently and more cost effectively than have government entities. But until we can fix that larger problem, the least we can do is try to hold our own. So go ahead and vote. Tell your friends to vote, too. And when you do, remember that this isn't about what you can get from government, or what you can give to it, or force others to give by proxy. It's about getting government to do its job, but even more importantly, to do no more than that.
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