The Catch Phrases
Of a Political Sham
by Ryan Cummins
My experience on a city council, in business and as a taxpayer tells me to beware when the government action being proposed is “for the public safety,” “for the kids” or “for economic development.” When you hear those words, grab your wallet and hold close your liberty; there is a hidden agenda.
Another dependable “tell” that your elected representative is gambling with your future is when, in the midst of a budgetary crisis, he proposes incidental cutbacks such as in office supplies, cell-phone use, take-home cars and the like. You can be sure that if the councilman understands your city’s predicament he doesn't plan on doing anything about it.
My hometown newspaper the other day carried comments that a councilman was “concerned” about the city budget and urging “fiscal responsibility.” This same fellow had voted yes to every salary ordinance and budget increase for two decades.
Fiscal responsibility? Many have no earthly idea what it might mean. In any case, it is the job of journalists to hold politicians accountable on a day-to-day basis. The rest of us need to get to work delineating the principles of sound governance long term.
To begin with the obvious, voters deserve to know what principles guide those they elect to office, what he or she will do when the time comes to raise a hand yes or no. Otherwise, democracy is a sham exercise. Meaningless are vague references to a “common good,” “Hoosier values,” “working in the best interests of the people.”
There are four principles that I would look for: limited government, free markets, property rights and individual responsibility. Let me offer my definitions:
1. Limited Government — Holding a government (at any level) to only the protection of life, liberty and property. Stated differently, it means that any government is only legitimate and can only claim to operate at the consent of the governed if it can only legally, ethically, morally and righteously do the things that an individual can also do legally, ethically, morally and righteously.
2. Free Markets — The free and voluntary exchange between one person or group of persons and another is where our needs will be most efficiently and effectively met.
3. Property Rights — That every person has a fundamental human right, which cannot be legitimately violated by the state, in the fruits of the labor and in themselves as a human being.
4. Individual Responsibility — I am responsible to meet my needs and the needs of all those for whom I voluntarily choose to be responsible. That is my family first and then my neighbors.
It is my experience that the these principles are most likely to be violated in the name of economic development. There is nothing that happens when a person is elected or appointed that transforms him or her into an economic superhero. Again, a person is elected only to act as an agent for the individual citizen to ensure that government operates to protect their life, liberty and property.
When an elected official goes beyond that, then always and everywhere the result is ultimately destructive. Jobs are lost, opportunity is reduced, and wealth and property are compromised or destroyed — regardless of intentions,
Citizens don’t depend on the mayor, commissioner or economic-development director to find projects in which to invest tax dollars. We never do that. When a parking garage, apartment building, convention center, stadium, industrial building is not built, it is not a failure of civic vision. Quite the contrary, it is because citizens, entrepreneurs, investors and businesses have weighed the pros and cons and decided that this isn’t the best use of their money and property at the time.
Once more, limited government, free markets, property rights, individual responsibility, freedom and liberty stand with the individual citizen when such decisions are made. We need to keep it that way.
Maj. Ryan Cummins, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation and the owner of a family business, is past chairman of the appropriations committee of the Terre Haute Common Council. This is based on his presentation to the summer seminar of the foundation.