Tuesday, May 08, 2012

When bigger isn't better

"Wilkinson is right that judges are prone to misreading the values of the broader society.

"But even if judges read those values correctly, judicial restraint can mean giving coercive sweep to the values of contemporary majorities. That a majority considers something desirable is not evidence that it is constitutional. "

George Will, The Washington Post, "The Right to Be Left Alone"
This issue often comes up when discussing Obamacare. Too many people believe that because Obamacare's intentions are good it ought to be constitutional. Put another way, the constitution should put no limits on the virtuous intentions of congress. Or the most vulgar interpretation of them all, "The constitution's general welfare clause ordains and encourages congress to do what is good for us."

Against this position, and in addition to Mssrs Wilkinson and Will, is C.S. Lewis:
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
Or as PLF attorney, Timothy M. Sandefur, said at the Alternatives to Originalism forum in 2011,
"I think all the concern about democracy is overblown because the constitution lays out very clearly what it’s intended to accomplish and democracy is not among those. Protecting the blessings of liberty is the purpose of the constitution, and so where that clashes with democracy we should reject democracy."
All these people are warning against the tyranny of the majority over the minority, and that the constitution makes it clear, or does to some, that individual rights should be protected from popular fashions.

If You Give a Moose a Millage...

In 2008 I advocated against the zoo tax, not because 0.1 mill was excessive, but because of its inevitable consequences outlined in the definitive treatise on tax policy by famed author Laura Numeroff, "If You Give a Moose a Muffin."

If you're not familiar with the children's story, the story tells of a young boy that gives a moose a muffin, then the moose wanted jam, and when the first batch of muffins were gone the boy needed to make more, etc. etc. etc.  Though the boy and the moose get along famously a cynical moral-of-the-story may be, "If you give a zoo a millage, it'll bring friends."

It's as impossible to feed a single pigeon or seagull--word spreads.

Now the Detroit Institute of Arts wants to double-down on the Zoo's millage and is requesting its own 0.2-mill property tax.  That would represent a 200% increase on property taxes for cultural institutions.  Sure, in real numbers the tax is only 0.2 mills, but will it end?

If we pretend neither the zoo or DIA will request increases (the Zoo already has permission to ask for an increase to 0.2 mills), why shouldn't the Holocaust Museum, Museum of African American History, Detroit Historical Museum, Michigan Opera Theater, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, or Detroit Science Center,  get their own 20-year 0.2-mill property tax?  Altogether those taxes would be 1.5-to-1.6 mills.  Which of these cultural centers are less deserving than the zoo, and who will make that argument?

Once increased, do you expect those millages to disappear in 20 years?  How many taxes do you know that have expired?  How many DDA, PSD, or COD taxes do you know that have expired?  Are your school millages expiring or are supporters asking for to extend millages to 2033 or beyond?

As Matt Schonert wrote on WDET's Facebook thread, "If you want to support the DIA, become a member."

Just as many voters believe supporting government welfare spending is charitable (it isn't), so must they believe increasing taxes for cultural institutions makes them patrons of the humanities (it doesn't).

As Mr. Schonert suggested, the best way to feel like a patron is to be a patron.  Buy tickets, take friends, and attend the events.  If those events aren't appealing enough to make time on your schedule or part with your own money, why insist your neighbors part with theirs?