Governmental Philanthropy

Governmental Philanthropy

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B: Suppose a movement is made by the local government to do a project of some kind, like, say, some city beautification.  Perhaps they’re going to make the city look nicer by planting some trees along Main Street, and getting some better-looking lamps to replace the run-down ones.  Of course, it’ll cost ‘em a bit of money, but probably not too much.  Anyway, it’ll be a quick little project, and after it’s done, the city will look nicer, and everybody’ll be happy.

Everybody, that is, except for one particular old grump, who will undoubtedly complain, as he always does, about how his tax money went to fund a project he thought was entirely unnecessary, since he felt the “city looked just fine;” besides, he’d like to use his own money in the way he’d prefer to use it himself anyway.

A: Heh!  Tough luck, buddy.  That’s life; get used to it.

B: That is “life,” indeed.  But let me ask you this: is this part of life really indispensable?  Could it be averted somehow?

A: Not without upsetting the desires of all those others who voted for the project in the first place.

B: Is that really true?  Or is there a way to satisfy both parties?  Let’s go back to freedom, for instance.  Doesn’t the old grump have a particularly compelling point in his desire to spend his own money the way he’d like to?  Shouldn’t that be part of freedom, or a right?  Instead the grump is forced by taxation to spend his money on something that, in his view, is completely unnecessary.

A: What if the project was funded by the Department of Transportation?

B: Buddy, it doesn’t matter.  It’s another government agency.  All these governmental agencies get their funds from the same source; that is, from taxes.  If they got their funds from anything else, it must have been donated by a private individual, and the reality would in that case be that the project was funded by that private individual, not by the government.  If that was the case, then the project is a private one, and the grump has nothing to complain about, since his money is not actually being used.

What I’m wondering with all this is: why should citizens be forced to pay for things they don’t want, even if other citizens vote for it?  If those other citizens want the city to be beautified, why don’t they pay for it themselves, without requiring everybody else to pay for it as well?

This same kind of conundrum can be found all over wherever government-sponsored projects are.  Take government-sponsored education, for instance.  Most people agree that education is a good thing.  But what if somebody decides he doesn’t want to support public education?  Why should he have to pay for it?

A: It’s his responsibility, as a citizen of the nation, to help provide for other people’s needs.

B: Is it really?  Am I responsible for your welfare?  I’m surely responsible for my own, but for others’, as well?  Whose, in particular?  And to what extent?  And how do you define a person’s “needs?”  Won’t they differ from person to person?  Furthermore…couldn’t I agree with the notion that a person “needs” education and yet still object to having to pay for it, whether for the sake of retaining my right to use my property as I see fit, or for the simple belief I have that private education would be better for any other individual than the alternative anyway?

The problem, as I see it, is that the government allows people to vote for how they will spend everybody’s money; both their own and others’ (and, by far, mostly others’).  Whenever a project idea comes up, money is inevitably needed, and if it is approved (usually by vote, if only indirectly through an elected official), some people will end up having to pay for things they don’t want.  What I’m asking is, if certain people wanted the project to be done, why don’t they just get together and pay for it themselves?!

A: Are you saying that those who voted for the project should be the only ones required to pay for it?

B: While I do believe that would be an improvement over what we have now, I don’t think that’s the best idea.  It’s an interesting thought in theory, but probably very impractical.  Besides, people often change their minds about whether they want to spend their money on something.  And they might vote differently if they knew they would have to pony up for it.  But the bottom line really is, it really should just be a privately-run operation anyway.

Myself, maybe I’m fine with the way things are.  But every so often, some supposedly grand new idea sprouts up.  “Preserve a town’s ‘historic downtown’ here;” or “build a new convention center” there.  And yet for some reason so many of these ideas supposedly require funding through taxes.  And so after it’s all approved, I say, “oh great!  Here’s yet another silly project, without which I would have been just fine, that I’m going to have to help pay for, like it or not.”

A: You probably won’t have to pay that much through taxes for it anyway.

B: That’s not really my point.  I wouldn’t care if it was only a single penny the government was exacting from me, the point is that they shouldn’t be taking anything from me at all – except for funding those few things I said before that government should be involved in.  The point is that outside these few things, I should have the freedom – yea, verily, the right – to spend my money the way I want to, as long as it doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s rights or freedoms.

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