The Outstater

April 7, 2024

A Politics of Bad Intentions

THERE ARE THOSE worried about the next mayor of our city. They have good reason.

We are at a crossroads. Our longtime mayor, a Democrat, died leaving a full four-year term. His party will caucus later this month to select a replacement. The Republicans, given ininspired leadership and demographic shifts, have gone moribund and are not expected to return to power — ever.

The sad thing is that our mayor, rest in peace, the affable owner of a neighborhood tavern, loved his city and would not purposefully have done anything to harm it. The man was nothing if not well-intentioned.

Not the bunch now grasping for the mayoral ring; they’re something else. We are about to experience the politics of bad intentions. 

The leading candidates in the caucus include a social-justice warrior for the trial lawyers plus two finger-wagging guilt mongers from city council. All three have made careers out of punishing whom they see as the privileged in the larger surrounding community.

Again, this is different. Their typical pet projects may include some old-fashioned wealth transfers and kickbacks but the point is always to “stick it to the man,” make him pay whether their constituencies are helped or not.

Here is an example. Grocery stores, both small and large, have left parts of the city because of shoplifting, employee theft and violent crime. In a policy sense, this presents two options: 1) reduce crime so that investment returns; or 2) fund government-subsidized groceries.

The first would work. It would be a boon to the neighborhoods in question and to the city as a whole. Note, however, that it doesn’t punish the right people. No haughty burgher would have to pay an extra dime.

Better, the three say, to have the city set up a chain of fanciful money pits, call them grocery stores, and quit reporting the shoplifting, employee theft and violent crime. Problem solved. With any luck and a friendly media you could bankrupt the city.

Now, I would be surprised if any of these candidates have a working knowledge of economic theory. In their minds, they are not socialists. There is a deeper, more basic human failing at work here. It is the appeal to envy and resentment. If you had to put a face on it, it would be one of those ancient sculptures, beheaded and vandalized by those who can destroy but not build.

Please understand that all of us have struggled with envy and resentment at one time in our lives. Most of us, though, as we reach adulthood, keep them constrained well below the point they drive our public policy positions, especially the self-defeating ones.

And know that this is not the same thing as jealousy, which might lead to self-improvement, hard work and better life choices. Rather, it is the politicization of hate — a well-paying endeavor for the few, for a while.

A harsh judgment? Yes, for harsh times. — tcl


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