Limited Government Tough Principle To Uphold
I've been thinking a lot lately. And since it's my job, I'm going to try to make you think, as well.
What do we mean when we say we support limited government?
East Texas is clearly a conservative region, supporting conservative candidates. Ask most East Texas voters, and I'm pretty sure most will say they support limited government.
But in practice? Take Tyler, for example. The city has been a textbook example of fiscal responsibility and low taxes.
Yet that doesn't mean it's a good example of limited government. Tyler has a complicated set of building codes, zoning regulations and other sorts of ordinances. Those codes unquestionably make Tyler a better place to live -- weedy, vacant lots really do lower surrounding property values and, in real ways, the quality of life in neighborhoods. It's called the "broken window effect."
But those codes require enforcement. Enforcement requires inspectors and officers. More codes, more enforcement. The math is simple.
Those codes and zoning ordinances also dictate, to a large extent, what people can and can't do with their own property. There's no doubt it makes Tyler a more orderly city.
But think about it in principle. It's your land, shouldn't you be able to do what you want -- whether you put up a new shed, keep a few chickens or do some work on cars for some extra money?
And on top of those ordinances and codes, city leaders have added yet another layer -- the Tyler 21 long-range plan. Planning ahead is a good thing. But the document itself, as it helps to guide policy, is more government.
How about the smoking ban? I like it. I enjoy my meals in restaurants more since its passage.
But let's call it what it is: More government regulation and, in the eyes of many, government intrusion into their private lives.
"It's for their own good," we might say.
All right. But when we consider that principle -- government stepping in because it knows better than we do -- we'd better think about it.
And alcohol sales? We're all for the free market system -- but that's in theory. In practice, many of us think twice about having liquor stores in our neighborhoods.
I'm not picking on Tyler. It happens at the state level, as well. Lawmakers like making laws. And each new law requires more government.
A statewide ban on the substance "K-2" -- a marijuana substitute -- will be proposed, and likely passed, during the coming legislative session. It's reported to be a dangerous substance.
But think about the consequences of banning it. Police officers will have another substance to police. They'll have to inspect the shops that tend to sell this sort of thing. That will take time and resources. It likely will mean more officers will need to be hired, or other duties will be neglected.
In short, it's an expansion of government.
So what do we really mean when we say we want limited government? And why the disconnect between theory and practice?
In part, I think, it's because the expansion of government happens incrementally. Laws and levels of government usually are added slowly, and one-by-one (the Obama administration is the exception that proves the rule).
Another possible reason is that conservatives -- the folks who say they like limited government -- also like law-and-order candidates. Smith County voters, for example, consistently have shown they prefer tough judges and prosecutors, despite the interminable problem of jail overcrowding.
And so we're left with advocating an idea -- limited government -- that we're constantly undermining.
That should give us something to think about.