the God That Mugged Me*
live in Weston, Connecticut, a town of about 10,000 people. The
town was something of a backwater for many decades. A 19th-century
population of several thousand had shrunk, by the 1930s, to under
a thousand. (The vanishing importance of river power and farming
in New England accounted for the decline.)
with the construction of the Merrit Parkway and, later, I-95, travel
was easier between Weston and New York. The suburbs expanded. Weston,
with a good deal of open land and attractive natural scenery, gradually
became a "bedroom community."
demographics of the town changed significantly through the decades
after WWII. The old-time residents had not, for the most part, been
wealthy. Some of them fit into the colloquial classification, "Swamp
Yankee," essentially the local equivalent of "hillbilly."
In the 50s and 60s, a wave of modest new ranch homes and colonials
were built, the buyers of which were members of the "comfortable
middle class." But as Westport, the wealthy town to the south
of Weston, filled up, people looking for an extensive country home
on several acres began to move north. The town increasingly attracted
corporate executives, stock traders, and so on, from the top one
or two percent of income earners in America. By 2000, Weston was
one of the wealthiest towns in the wealthiest state in the country,
with a median household income approaching $150,000 per year and
median house prices in the upper-six-figure range.
purpose of my historical digression is to make the point that the
most recent arrivals are generally wealthier than the people who
moved in 40 or 50 years ago, who are wealthier themselves than the
descendants of the old-time residents who remain scattered around
town. (There is one section of the town where one could, in fact,
imagine one was in a poor section of Appalachia.) And the newcomers
have the younger families, the ones with school-age children, for
the most part.
has one of the top public
school systems in the state. (Damning with faint praise, I know!)
The average SAT scores are 557/553, as opposed to 503/499 for the
state as a whole. On mastery tests in earlier grades, Weston students
generally score ten to twenty percent above the state average. Spending
per pupil is $10,973, as opposed to the state average of $8,300.
And, interestingly for such a wealthy town, the percentage of students
in the public system is higher than the state average (by
the children attending "our" public schools are hardly
suffering from a sub-standard education, at least by public school
standards. And, if they were, most of the residents could afford
some form of private education.
last year, a coalition of parents and school officials decided that
certain conditions in the schools were intolerable. (For instance,
the septic system was reaching capacity, and some classes were held
in temporary classrooms.) They began a campaign to rectify the problems,
involving $80 million of new construction. (That's right, $8000
per resident, or over $25,000 per household.) The plan they forwarded
included a new auditorium, new athletic fields, a new gym, additional
library space, and more. They lobbied hard for a new bond issue
and, over strenuous opposition – chiefly from the "empty nesters"
– succeeded in getting it passed in November.
is illuminating, I think, to look at what transpired by comparing
the commonly held, Never-Never Land theories of democracy against
its gritty reality. Democracy is often defended as a way of taming
the "excesses" of the market system. It is said it gives
those with less wealth a greater say in the structuring of society
than they would have had in an unhampered market. But in our story,
the people with more wealth conspired to extract a large amount
of money from those with less. It is not an uncommon plotline. The
nine decades that the Federal Reserve System has systematically
transferred money from middle-class savers to wealthy bankers is
ongoing testimony to the prevalence of such arrangements. Given
that there are often reasons that the wealthy have their money,
and that the reasons often involve talent and intelligence, it's
not surprising that the wealthy are also adept at politics, if they
put their mind to it.
you might guess from the fact that I write for LewRockwell.com,
I am not a fan of schemes forcibly redistributing wealth from the
rich to the poor. But I think that at least some of the people recommending
such schemes are acting from a charitable, if misguided, motivation.
(Their primary mistake is that they believe it somehow charitable
to force other people to help the poor.) No such motivation
moved the people backing the new bond issue. However inadequate
egalitarianism is as an excuse for redistributive schemes, the excuse
was absent from our bond referendum. What took place was a simple
mugging, disguised only by a thin veneer of "democratic process."
will take my family as an example, not because the focus of my interest
in the bond issue is its impact on me, but because I'm fairly familiar
with most of its members. (Indeed, I only became dully aware of
the referendum itself about a week before it occurred, and really
couldn't be bothered to investigate more. But once I saw it held
theoretical interest, well, that was a different matter.)
In any case, we are attempting to home school our children. While
my family is hardly poor, we could not afford an average home in
most sections of our town. (Some of the "Swamp Yankees"
live within a few blocks of us.) We sometimes feel the pinch of
the combination of time off from work and private classes needed
to implement our home-schooling plans. But many of our wealthier
neighbors feel it is acceptable to vote to raise our taxes
so that their children may have better school facilities.
people working to pass the new bond issue could have, for the most
part, simply bought their children whatever instruction, extra-curricular
activities, and so on, that they felt was lacking in the public
schools. If the wealthy "Yes" voters wanted to ensure
that not only their children, but also those of poor families, had
access to the new opportunities, they could have done so. There
are very few people in Weston whom one might consider poor. Only
76 households are officially regarded as living in poverty (and
presumably many of them are made up of elderly people with no school-age
children or single people renting a room in town). Those who wanted
to help the few poor children could have launched a charitable drive
to fund need-based vouchers for extra-curricular activities. They
could have taken their own children out of the public schools, which,
since they would continue to pay taxes, would increase the funding
and space available for the poorer students. They could have tried
to raise the funds for the whole $80 million dollar project through
deluded by an ideology that holds that almost anything is justified,
if only you have enough votes, they instead made the choice to extract
the money by force from their unwilling neighbors. As one local
pundit put it after the referendum
passed, "Full speed ahead on doing the will of the majority..."
And full speed ahead on picking the pockets of the minority, we
My apologies to Professor Hoppe for mangling the title of his book,
the God That Failed.
Callahan [send him mail]
has just finished a book, Economics for Real People, to
be published this year by the Ludwig
von Mises Institute.
© 2002, Gene
Callahan/Stu Morgenstern Archives
needs your help. Please donate.