Come August 7th, voters in the counties of Oakland, Macomb and Wayne, here in Michigan, will find on our ballots a new millage request. It’s called the Wayne County Art Institute Authority Millage. And why should you care if you’re not living in the tri-county area of Michigan? Because items like these appear on ballots everywhere in the US of A. This particular one can be used as an example of what appears to be a great cause but; underneath, lies the grumbling belly of a Sarlacc, getting the power of government to force the taxpayer to pay for someone else’s hobby.
A quick review before proceeding, shall we?
What is government? I’m not going to launch into a list of optional forms of social contracts. I won’t define Marxism, Monarchy, etc, you have Wikipedia for that. Ask yourself this question and think about what it is. What makes government so different than every other agency. How is it different than a large corporation? Different than a shopping mall? What sets it apart?
In Harry Browne’s book, “Why Government Doesn’t Work”, he gives us the answer we seek. Government is force. It is nothing else. Regardless of a Communist or Monarchy or Constitutional Republic, government is an agency of force. Government is the only organization that has the power to make you do things you might or might not want to be a part of. It can make you pay taxes. It can force you to enlist in military service. It can make you participate in cutting your lawn. And in the United States, it can now make you participate in a health care plan. No corporation can do that. General Motors, Walmart, Burger King, all they can do is advertise the hell out of their products and entice you to engage with them. They can never force you to participate with them. Remember this the next time someone suggests we get government involved. What they’re really saying is, “Let’s force people to do this.”
Here is the scary part: Government’s ability to force you to do things is done at the end of a gun. Try not paying your taxes, see what happens. The first step might be a nasty pink letter from the IRS. The next would be a personal visitation from an agent. If you continue to refuse to participate, the IRS will knock on your door really loud, break it down and drag you out to stand trial. And if you continue to put up a fight, you get shot.
Do we really want to be using government to solve problems? Protecting the Rights and property of the people, sure. I like knowing we have a government that will arrest someone who breaks into my home and, with due process, provide a trial to determine guilt and, if guilty, punish the perp. That’s what government should do. But should it be involved in say, preserving an Institute of Arts…at the business end of a gun barrel?
That’s what the Wayne County Art Institute Authority Millage is. If passed, it forces a tax on property owners in the tri-county area to provide funding for the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). Feel free to look it up and come back to this.
I love the DIA. I recently spent an afternoon there with my wife who had never been. I’ve been going, every few years, since I was in my early twenties. I particularly love the collection of religious paintings from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. I also always stop by for a moment and ponder the image in Harald Slott-Moller’s, Georg Brandes at the University of Copenhagen. For years I chose not to find out who Georg Brandes was because I liked wondering what this guy was all content about up on that witness stand (as it looks). And my final stop is always in the Egyptian collection (despite how puny it is). I have to say hello to the Seated Scribe, that little basalt statue of a man bent over his papers. It’s my mascot as a writer. I took it on back in my twenties during my first visit where I purchased a replica. It remains on my bookshelf today, right next to Indiana Jones and Sallah. See?
I have lots of memories there. I have had new experiences with each visit, taking different people with me. I wish I had lots of money to spend at the gift shop, collecting prints to complement my personal library and pieces to adorn my bookshelves. But come August 7th, if this millage doesn’t pass, the DIA could be headed for closure, permanently. It will begin with immediate layoffs and reduction of services. This saddens me. But I will be voting NO on the millage. To vote yes, would be equal to pointing a gun at every property owner’s head in the tri-county area and demanding they continue to fund a hobby of mine (and countless others).
Government should never be used to uphold, give a lift to, suspend, increase (or decrease) something outside what it was designed to do. Sadly, governments routinely ignore their reason for existence: To protect the property, Rights and lives of the people. But every now and then, we the people, get to vote directly on an issue. With every issue I approach the voting box with the definition in mind. I read every millage or proposition or proposal and ask, does this fit into the definition of government? If it doesn’t, no matter how good it might seem to me as an individual, I always vote NO. I can not fathom forcing other people to pay for things that I like, even if I think they should like them too.
I really liked the Borders bookstore in my neighborhood, but that went out like a light last year. Would it have been a good thing, when the writing was on the walls end of 2010, to put a millage on the ballot to bail them out? I would have loved for Borders to stick around but would have also voted NO on that.
In every instance where you as an individual can approach the voting box, keep in mind what you’re really doing. If a proposal comes up to fund a new public swimming pool in your neighborhood, it might sound great, especially if you have young kids. But step back, breathe, and ask yourself, would I put a gun to my neighbor’s head for this? If you answer NO, then you should vote NO. (Incidentally, if you answer YES, you should seek psychiatric care).