Wednesday, October 31, 2007

We're from the government, and we're here to help...

I was raised in a house with Mom, Dad, and 7 brothers and sisters. That meant 140 dirty socks a week, more or less. More if we got the chance to go to town on Saturday night, less if my little brothers wore the same socks for two days, or simply traded amongst themselves. Regardless of the final tally, it was an awful pile of socks when we brought them in from the clothesline, and there was great wailing and gnashing of teeth as we each tried to sort our own socks from the basket.

Somewhere along the line, somebody came up with the idea of safety pinning the pairs of socks together. That way, if you found one of your socks, you found a pair. Of course, by the same token, if you lost one, you lost two, but I never had much use for one sock anyways.

The system worked so well that I still use it today, but occasionally even a flawless plan can be spoiled. As a teenager, I accompanied my Explorer Scout troop to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. After spending 10 days in the mountains, and upon returning to the base camp, we turned our dirty laundry over to the leaders, who in turn piled it in with the rest of the troop’s laundry, and ran it through some giant washing machines. I had taken the pains to pin my socks together in pairs, and then pinned the pairs together, creating a giant, smelly ball that I would be able to quickly retrieve once the dryer was finished.

The plan fell apart when one of the leaders walked up and gave me a hand full of safety pins, explaining that I had forgotten to unpin my socks, but luckily he was able to get them apart before they were placed in the washer. I spent a goodly portion of the next morning attempting to gather too me that which was mine. To this day I’m convinced that no account Stinky Wilmont has three of my blue stripe tube socks and at least one black argyle. I’m also sure that leader thought he was helping out, but it sure didn’t end up that way.

Most of our elected officials seem to suffer under the same delusion. I’m sure a lot of them really believe the rules and laws they create are going to make things better. Then, when one set of rules make a mess of things, they believe they can make some new rules to straighten out the mess the old rules caused. In reality, most of our elected officials are just like you and me, with no more insight on governing than the next person. Winning an election doesn’t make them any smarter; it just gives them more power.

We’re about to go through another session of tax shuffling. Freezing property tax rates while increasing assessments, and raising sales and income taxes. We’ll see a shift of certain services from the local level to the state level, while others will shift the other direction. Officials will argue among themselves about which plan is better and cheaper for the taxpayers, and each will claim some magic insight into knowing how to best spend your money when they get it.

But we’ve all been through it before. Big government costs a lot of money. No matter what our legislators believe or want us to believe, the new plan will cost more than the old plan. It might come from a different tax, or from a different pocket, but it’s still coming from the taxpayers.

We can’t make our politicians any smarter. But we can elect people that will work to limit government to its essential services, and end its ability to tax us without limit. By doing so, we can limit the things they spend our money on, so some of those not so smart decisions don’t break us.

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