The current, apparent economic journey into recession demonstrates why limited government is wise. Unlike individuals, who tend tighten their financial dealings through closer observance and more critical judgment, government chooses only one path during tough economic conditions.
Fairfax County yesterday joined a growing list of communities across the region that have raised property taxes this year to protect government services and public schools in the face of declining real estate values and a generally sluggish economy.
Perhaps an analysis of the Fairfax County government would reveal a limited array of indefensible services. I doubt it, but I’m rather more interested in the theoretical here. Individuals can’t simply require a higher salary when their salary falls below break-even. They must understand their need to reduce expenses, however temporarily. When services are essentially guaranteed¹ by the government, flexibility causes problems, as these counties are now discovering. No one should be surprised.
No reasonable person is going to suggest cutting out schools, for example, to save money. But if you send your children to a school that you pay for directly, will you likely be more or less inclined to scrutinize how the school spends its (i.e. your) money? Will administrators likely be more or less accountable for each penny? If there’s an important message that needs to go out, and the school usually prints for distribution, might direct concern regarding costs lead to e-mail distribution instead?
Unfortunately, we have layers of extraneous bureaucracy instead. We have distance between consumer and cost. We don’t know how to say “no” when funds are unavailable or the request is ludicrous. We concede more services as public goods, then relinquish more of our money when tax receipts fall below spending. We cease to question any previous transfer of services to government provision. And when the economy picks up, government takes the credit.
¹ Services are guaranteed. Quality, maybe not as much.