by Paul Hein
by Paul Hein
About to use it to line the birdcage, I noticed a headline in the Business Section of the newspaper. "Sunset Hills (a local suburb) will debate how much of a tax break to give business complex." The bird got the editorials instead.
The sub-head read, "Developer wants $42 million." Unmentioned, but assumed, is that the developer wants that 42 million from Sunset Hills. (Once again I was struck at the ease with which the media associate the city with its rulers.)
Sunset Hills is a town of about 8300 souls. Its government will hear recommendations from its Tax Increment Financing Commission regarding the granting of this tax break; the Commission is comprised of 12 members. From the body of the article I gathered that no officials opposed the idea of the tax break for this new commercial development; the only point of debate was the amount. To accomplish his objective, the developer will have to purchase about 254 homes, and raze them. He was prepared to pay 175% of their assessed value to acquire them. A bureaucrat for the local school district found this offensive, declaring, "I don't think taxpayers should support an inflated project." But it is of the very essence of government that "taxpayers" should support whatever they are told to support — or face fine or imprisonment. What if the residents of Sunset Hills decided they didn't want the project at all? Or that they didn't want to pay the salaries of a Tax Increment Financing Commission? And who decides what price is "inflated?"
Well, so what? This is common stuff. Communities (actually, the few men who rule them) engage in this sort of thing all the time. What struck me as noteworthy is its very commonness, because it's backwards. It should be the other way around.
Suppose the headline had read, "Sunset Hills developer debates how much tribute to pay local rulers?" Why couldn't there be a Businessmen's Tax Commission to advise the powers-that-be just how much they are willing to spend to buy them off? Invariably, the politicians refer to themselves as "public servants." No one laughs when they say this, and they themselves say it with a straight face. Yet how absurd: the people's servants decide what and how a new business may operate, and how much it will pay them for the privilege of being pushed around. The residents are, nominally, sovereign, but take their orders from their self-proclaimed servants. And, of course, those "servants" also refer to themselves as "Sunset Hills," not as the cabal of a dozen or two that dictates to the 8300 people who are Sunset Hills.
We base our lives upon assumptions. Most of the time that is reasonable: we cannot go back and re-discover everything for ourselves. We assume that what we are told is true. Over time, these assumptions may become set in concrete. We assume, for instance, that a handful of people who get themselves elected to office (often by a minority of the residents) somehow become empowered to do what they could not do before: take our property against our will, and direct our lives according to their whims and fancies. If asked (but we never are) if government gets its power by delegation from the people, we would agree; but how, then, could we explain the countless things which government does which the people cannot do? Have we delegated to the rulers powers we do not have?
A businessman, seeking to start a business in a community, must obtain the local rulers OK about where and what he plans to do. He doesn't even question the fact that he is expected to pay them, yearly, a percentage of his profits — although they will not share in his losses, if any. Even in a town as tiny as Sunset Hills there is simply no questioning the fact that any productive activity undertaken or planned there must share its rewards with the rulers, and obtain their consent — often at a cost — before driving a single nail, or taking the first shovelful of earth. The idea that productive citizens or companies dictate terms to the drones is simply unthinkable.
Or at least it always has been. Wouldn't you think we'd wise up eventually?
June 27, 2005
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