by Bill B. May
Whether you chose to or not, you were born into (or under) a government. You are governed, by somebody. Have you ever sat down and asked, why do I need to be governed? Think about it. Why does my daily life require an external force for me to function? A governance? Am I not capable of making my own decisions? We deem childhood ends at 18; presumably the child has been taught right and wrong by that age. Some may not but why would you need to be subject to governance if you chose the right decisions.
That is a big part of government: To keep order among those who chose wrong decisions in dealing with fellow man. Evil does exist in people; few are true angels. But mostly we expect people to make the right decisions most of the time. And they do. It is only the outlier who thinks he or she can get away with something, who thinks they can better themselves at the expense of fellow citizens. Those people need to be governed. Those people are the reason we have police forces, courts and jails. Those institutions govern those who ignore right and wrong, yet we are all burdened with the same governance.
Well, you might say that there is a lot more to government than just to keep order among the citizens– keeping the bad guys from disrupting the lives of good guys. Well, yes, that is how things have evolved but the fundamental need for government is to keep order from internal threats and from external threats as well. The fundamental role of government as seen by our founders was to maintain the liberty of the people against internal and external threats.
A group of settlers might form a town to protect themselves against various threats. They vote to decide what region it was to occupy, what its name was to be and who was to be the sheriff. But then streets were needed for public access to each person’s private property. And votes were taken, with some landowners getting preferential treatment as to the street location and others getting the dirty end of the stick. Thus, the start of the principle of the greatest good for the greatest number of people. This is fundamental to the progressive idea of government. But what it ignores is that some people’s liberty is violated by the tyranny of the majority.
You might have a fine lot on a remote hill in our town. But it is too remote for you to fund a street to the property while some landowners lobby that the street to their property should be called Main Street with commercial properties on both sides. Your lot on a remote hill will be taxed in order to build Main Street but you get little benefit except to buy things in town, if you can get there. Your liberty is violated by others taking tax money from you with little benefit to you.
Well, isn’t that just the luck of the draw? You picked the wrong property. And so you suffer. Or does it need to be? Could liberty be an answer to the inequity?
Money is the way we measure costs and benefits. So if we are asking our neighbors to help pay for the street to our remote hill, we should look at the benefit and cost that each citizen realizes. Those that live next to that road should pay some amount to build the road and thereby have access to Main Street and elsewhere. Others might have a reason to visit us on the hill, like buying fresh vegetables. The Main Street vendors have a big reason to have roads so that customers can access their stores. A jury of citizens could come up with a first order package of assessments that would be reasonably fair. But that is not how towns evolve. They grow and new residents often have to pay for improvements like new streets.
The Progressive way is for everyone to pay for all roads regardless of the benefit to any particular taxpayer. But there are problems with this approach as with any political system. The mayor is going to get the best road and have it maintained perfectly. Economics plays little role in those kinds of decisions.
Toll roads were another attempt to pay for streets and roads through users. This is reasonably equitable but not cost effective (in the old days) to hire toll collectors on lesser used streets. With GPS and other technologies, that might not be a problem today or in the future.
The point of this discussion is that there are monetary ways to assign costs to users and benefactors. The progressive drive in America has been to charge everyone equally no matter their benefit or contribution (except of course their ability to pay, the communist way). It all comes down to the fallacious idea that people are all equal. If they are equal, they should pay equally and get benefits equally. But that is not what America was founded upon. People should be rewarded on their contribution and not by some master decider who attempts to equalize everyone’s income. America is (or should be) all about equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.
That demands that people’s liberty not be violated. For if one’s liberty is violated, then an outcome won’t be the result of equal opportunity. Someone else benefits because they were given an advantage over you. And the reward for your efforts will be less than what you deserve.
The answer to the original question of who do you want to govern you should be nobody unless you have violated another’s liberty. You don’t need governing if you respect liberty. The town government is violating your liberty because it is deciding where streets are built and who pays for them.
You can govern your life and your need for roads better than any politician. Yes, there must be a mechanism to pay for things like roads. But a gas tax is an equitable approach. It charges based on the amount of usage and on the wear and tear on the road. Trucks get less miles per gallon but weigh more so they are more destructive to the highway. Thus they pay more per mile driven. Of course, no such measure is perfect but at least the motivations are in the right direction. It will always be more equitable than charging for roads through property taxes. The best way, of course, is to privatize roads and let innovation figure out how to charge for their usage and upkeep.
And of course, it is better that people not be governed except when they deserve to be punished for their misdeeds. Let’s look to Liberty for answer.