Quotes from two books I have read just seem to stay with me. One is from Pearl Buck’s “The Three Daughters of Madame Liang,” which says that “Freedom is the only air we artists can breathe, and wherever in the world the air is still free, that is our country.” The second is from Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead,” which is that “You can’t fake reality.”
All people who live their lives well are artists in one form or another, and they use the time they have on this earth to do the best they can with the resources available to them. We can pretend that it is the government or some other benevolent group that best promotes everyone’s welfare, but it really is promoted by the individual artists, in whatever form they take. Some of those artists certainly can be in government, but fundamentally society is better because of the productivity of private and free individuals, and that is a reality that cannot be faked.
Unfortunately, our country and our state have for decades been plunging headlong into a reliance upon government to address and fix most issues, instead of relying upon what has made us great in the first place, which is private property rights, the free-enterprise system and the labor and creativity of our artists.
For example, we have fallen into the mindset that whenever we face yet another problem, we simply should respond by passing another law. Well, we have plenty of laws. In fact we have too many, to the extent that we would be far better off to repeal two existing laws for every new one passed.
For example, we really don’t need to have so-called “hate crime” laws on the books.
Why in concept should an assault upon one person, regardless of that person’s ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, etc. be automatically considered worse than a similar assault upon a person who is not in one of those categories?
Assaults are and should be against the law, and prosecutors and judges will bring charges and punish offenders based upon the seriousness of the offenses, the background of the offenders, and the overall harm done. So although passing these additional laws might make legislators feel like they have done something positive, the laws are not necessary, and could even be seen as demeaning to the victims and everybody else.
Furthermore, California would actually be well advised to follow the Texas’ lead and have our legislature in session only every other year, when it can pass a two-year budget. But otherwise, not only do we not need the legislature to be in session each year, we really can’t even afford it! Remember that government does not create wealth. Instead it only takes wealth away from others, keeps a great deal of it for its own expenses, and then distributes what remains to others.
So most productive people will tend to gravitate toward places that have lower taxes and less government interference, and most non-productive people will tend to gravitate toward places where there are larger hand-outs. Thus California, which has state and local expenditures of about $10,070 per person and is 10th from the highest in overall taxes, has an average of 3,247 more people moving out of the state than moving in every year. And Texas, which has state and local expenditures of $6,858 per person and is 38th from the highest in overall taxes, has an average of 1,544 people moving in state every year. And, of course, it is the productive people who are mostly leaving our state, and the non-productive who are moving in. No surprise there.
So how do we reduce the size of government spending so we can in turn reduce the need for such high taxes?
The first place to look is who we hire in the public sector, and how much we pay them, both in salary and in benefits. I have worked in the public sector for almost all of my professional life as a Navy lawyer, federal prosecutor and a judge, and I fully knew and expected that my salary would not match what I could have earned in the private sector. That is appropriate, and should be expected.
But we have too many people on the public payroll who should not be there at all. Much of the work they do should be done by workers in the private sector, who could provide the same services on low bid contract to the government.
For example, if we put the work done by Caltrans out for private bid, we would not only save money on the particular work itself, but also not be required to pay for the health care, retirement and other benefits these public employees receive. That would save real money to the taxpayer, and without a loss of services!
The same thing is true for other public employees who are mechanics, plumbers, electricians, computer support staff and many other technicians who work for various government agencies.
It is not just the cost of what these employees do that is close to bankrupting our governments, it is paying for their benefits. I know that I risk the wrath of many good and loyal public employees by saying these things, but they are true!
And now I am going to risk the further wrath of many other people by saying that we simply must revisit the holdings of Proposition 13.
Obviously there was a dire need for this measure originally to be passed, due to the mindless, irresponsible and never-ending public spending by government officials. In fact that really cannot be denied. But the reality is that the major beneficiaries of Proposition 13 have been companies that have large landholdings, like the Edison Co. In addition, this measure has truly been inequitable for our children, who are trying to break into first-time home ownership, but face much larger property taxes as they do so.
This fact was brought home to me several years ago when I purchased a double-lot home in north Santa Ana, and ended up paying more than twice the property taxes than my pre-Proposition 13 neighbor and friend who had a triple-lot home.
It is true that people on a fixed income need the security that Proposition 13 has given them, and we also need protections against runaway property taxes, but there must be a way for that security to remain without making the system so thoroughly inequitable for the more recent home buyers.
So help me look for ways to encourage more individualism and implement less government expense and interference in our lives. Your thoughts and insights can really help in this area.
In reality, there are lots of ways we can recapture our strength as a country and our security as free artists, and this strength cannot be obtained by continuing to rely upon bigger government. And we cannot continue successfully to fake these realities forever.
JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe – the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or via his website at www.judgejimgray.com .