Ryan Cummins, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, is co-owner of a family business in Terre Haute and the former chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the Terre Haute Common Council. His column appears in Indiana newspapers.
What will it take for my town — or for your town — to be what the people who live there believe to be best? A hint: It is not parks, jobs, housing, industrial parks, downtowns or any of those things, although you might find them in the better cities and towns.
It is when the great number of citizens believe they are responsible for themselves, their families, their neighbors and not the state. It is when a great number of citizens know the fruits of their labor are secure from coercion and appropriation by state; when they know their property rights are secure. It is when the great number of citizens demands an end to the interference in markets by state; an end to the silly, destructive and counterproductive interventions by a state that foolishly tries to pick winners and losers in the name of so-called economic development. It is when the great number of citizens understands that their wants, needs and desires will be most effectively and efficiently met in the voluntary exchange of the market, not in the force and coercion of the state.
Show me a city, county or particular area that does all these things and I will show you the best one in the state of Indiana. It is a good bet that this area already will be well known by those with entrepreneurial spirit and ethic looking to invest their property and human capital.
So why doesn’t it happen in your town?
In 1849, Frederic Bastiat wrote his famous book “The Law.” In it he described the two reasons my city and yours fail in their efforts to be the best for the people who live there. Bastiat identifies two motivations that lead to the use of the force of state for evil rather than good. Those motivations are “stupid greed” and “false philanthropy.”
“Stupid greed” is when a person attempts to live and prosper not by their own efforts but at the expense of others. Want some local examples? Take a look at the process for implementing a TIF (Tax Increment Financing) district. It begins with a falsehood. The boilerplate language of an ordinance establishing a TIF district requires the bureaucrats and politicians to state that the area is blighted and would not see productive economic activity if the district were not implemented. This is usually a bald-faced lie.
As destructive as “stupid greed” is, at least it can be tempered when a particularly egregious example comes to light. Far more dangerous to the principles of limited government, free markets, property rights and personal responsibility is Bastiat’s “false philanthropy.”
This has been the most baffling to me. We all know good people, people who would never think in a million years of stealing money from you but who will do so in an instant using the force of state to spend it on what they believe to be a good cause.
“False philanthropy” breaks down that trust and participation that was identified recently by Maryann O. Keating of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation as so important to building the wealth and well-being of a community. And yet, our communities have filled with people who think they know what is best for everyone else.
In sum, what most effectively contributes to each individual’s notion of well-being is known only to the individual himself. If you live in a community that understands this, that promotes and protects free markets and property rights in the operations of local government, that values personal responsibility, you live in Indiana’s “best” city.