Columnist Confuses Government and Individual, Again

In the November 7, 2004 Wichita Eagle, columnist Mark McCormick again confuses the proper role of government and individual.

He starts by talking about the spirit of the people in Wichita, how they will help you push your car, how they will hold open the door for you, etc. He refers to this as “neighborliness.” He labels Karl Peterjohn, Executive Director of the Kansas Taxpayers Network, as not belonging to this group, because of his opposition to tax increases.

Because Peterjohn opposed the arena and a school bond issue a few years ago, McCormick thinks he also opposed the wheel and fire. This type of ridicule does not advance Mr. McCormick’s argument.

I would ask Mr. McCormick if it is neighborly to vote for something that if passed, would require that your neighbor pay to subsidize your pleasure. That’s what the downtown arena tax does. It requires everyone to pay for something that benefits only a few.

The things that Mr. McCormick labels as being neighborly are things we do because we want to. Many people want to give of themselves to make things better for others. When we do that, either by holding open a door for someone or by giving substantially of our time and money, we are directly engaged in the noble act of charity. The givers of charity directly receive the benefits of having donated, and because it is our own resources we are giving, we make sure that our effort is not wasted.

When the government, however, taxes us and gives the money to those it does not belong to, it is not an act of charity. It is not neighborly, as we don’t even know those who received the benefit. The givers do not receive the benefit of having donated, because the taxes were taken from them by force.

The arguments Mr. McCormick makes, much like in his column from earlier in the week, refer to someone being “creative” and “taking a risk” and how Wichita might become “place where dreams and ideas usually die.”

How is it being “creative” for Sedgwick County to tax its citizens and build the same type of arena that all the other cities — the cities we are supposed to compete with — have already built?

How is it “taking a risk” for government officials to tax citizens to build an arena? If the arena fails to generate revenue sufficient to cover its costs, will the politicians be responsible? Of course they won’t. They will simply ask the citizens for more taxes, as is happening right now with Wichita’s Old Town special tax district.

Furthermore, I contend that the more government there is, the less “dreams and ideas” there will be, whether they live or die. For example, downtown arena supporters claim that the arena will attract bars and restaurants to its vicinity. What, then, should entrepreneurs do right now, if they are interested in opening bars or restaurants? Should they wait several years to see if the arena is built, and if it does in fact attract customers? Or should they build elsewhere, and then hope that the arena doesn’t detract too much from its business? This is not the type of climate that encourages individual risk-taking.

The same week that this column appeared Walter E. Williams wrote in a column titled “Why We’re a Divided Nation” these words: “The prime feature of political decision-making is that it’s a zero-sum game. One person or group’s gain is of necessity another person or group’s loss. As such, political allocation of resources is conflict enhancing while market allocation is conflict reducing. The greater the number of decisions made in the political arena, the greater is the potential for conflict.”

When we say “yes” to the things Mr. McCormick advocates, we rely on politicians and government to make our decisions, thereby increasing conflict. We should say “no” more often to government and let individuals and free markets make more decisions. We will have less conflict.

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