I TRY NOT to let old books rule my outlook. But as I write tonight, I am listening to a recording of a local city council meeting and cannot shake a thought so incisive it has long survived its writer. It is an observation from Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” through her enigmatic hero John Galt.
“When you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing. When you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors. When you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you. When you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice. You may know that your society is doomed.”
Although that paragraph painfully describes what was going on in council chambers, I don’t concede that my Indiana city is doomed. I am convinced, though, that drastic remedial action is necessary.
It starts by voting a bunch of them out of office at the first opportunity. Their successors should be asked to demonstrate that they understand Rand’s concern and would do their utmost to lead the city in a different direction.
And I have a suggestion as to which direction that might be. A friend has compiled three groups of questions that every councilman should ask before casting his or her first vote. Eric Schansberg, an adjunct scholar of our foundation, included them in a presentation he made to our membership some years back.
See if you don’t agree that they go a long way toward getting us out of this woods in which we are so utterly lost:
1. Is the proposal consistent with the relevant constitution? If a proposal violates the constitution, then it is illegitimate and undermines the rule of law. If a constitution is illegitimate in some way, change the constitution, don’t violate it.
2. Is the proposal an ethical use of force on people? When is it OK to have government force someone to do something or prevent them from doing it? Should I make it more difficult for you to work? Is it ethical for government to prevent people from smoking weed or eating too much pie? Is it moral for government to take your money and give it to poor people, wealthy farmers or businesses?
3. Is the proposal practical, will it actually work? Even if it’s constitutional and ethical, if it won’t work, then don’t do it. The minimum wage is dubious on constitutional and ethical grounds. Practically, the law makes it more expensive to hire those with fewer skills. So, we make life more difficult for marginal people we’re supposedly trying to help. We reduce their ability to earn money; we remove the dignity that comes with work; and we take away their best opportunities to build skills and experience through work. How is that attractive — practically or ethically?”
There, problem solved. Don’t try to thank me. — tcl