Progressivism, whether liberal or conservative, is the idea that if we just put the right people in charge, they will be able to concoct the proper mixture of a fair and prudent tax code, expenditures on bread and circuses, and “regulation” of private and pubic life, and we will all live happily ever after. As the idea that if the godless are set free to make up their own rules the result will be anything approaching the justice, prosperity, and peacewe all hope for is thoroughly unbiblical, Christians should have rejected it out of hand. However, the church in the United States, having been taught to be properly grateful for a nation that has granted its residents freedoms undreamed of in most places and at most times in our history, has failed to notice that that nation no longer values the freedoms it once granted and has drunk as deeply of Progressivism as the population at large.
I hereby attempt to provide a remedy for this turn of events. Having demolished the idea that there is some ideal tax system in which “everyone pays their fair share,” I now turn to the second leg of the Progressive stool, the possibility that funds garnered through taxation can be disbursed justly and prudently.
When Progressive governments fail, the charge is usually “corruption,” a catch-all term that encompasses incompetence, mismanagement, and various forms of embezzlement and theft. The solution proposed, usually around election time, never varies from the Progressive mantra of “We just need to put the right people in charge!” The fact that we put these crooks in charge to undo the damage done by the last group of crooks we put in charge doesn’t seem to register.
But to show you that even if there were some right people to put in charge the job would not be done correctly, I’ll put you in the driver’s seat and let you see for yourself that even the right person cannot not crash the car.
You’re the head of the education department in the state of Bruhaha. A good Progressive, you consider your job to be assuring a quality education for all the children in Bruhaha, especially the poor, and you are doing your best.
For a long time you have been wishing there were money to build a new school in Ton County, the poorest county in your state, and one day money does come up for just that purpose. After much serious consultation, the decision about where to build the school has boiled down to a choice between Upton and Downton. The communities are about the same size, but folks in Upton have more money than those in Downton because there is a factory in Upton run by a Mr. Jenrus.
Because Downtonian children do not have the advantageous home life of those in Upton, you are leaning toward locating the school in Downton so it can become a sort of community center for all Downtonians, as well as serving the Uptonians, who seem to be able to afford their own community amenities, from a distance.
One day you get a call from Mr. Jenrus, whom you know to be a man of his word. He also happens to have three children who will be attending the new school. He has heard that you want to locate the school in Downton and would like you to reconsider your decision. He offers to add at his own expense needed classroom space and equipment to the school, to add an extra twenty percent to the teachers’ salaries so better teachers can be recruited, to buy a bus, and to make sure the bus and the road between Downton and Upton are maintained for years to come so that the Downtonian children will be able to get to the school quickly whenever it is open – all this if only you will build the school in Upton. If you insist on building the school in Downton, then because he is concerned about the welfare of his children – who so far have been privately tutored and sent to boarding school and whom he does not want to spend the extra time on the bus – he will not only not put his money into the school, he will sell his factory to the highest bidder and move somewhere he can guarantee a good education for them.
So you have a choice between a better-financed school in Upton, one that would arguably serve the people of Downton better than a less-expensive school in Downton, or a lesser school in Downton that would be closer to those whose needs are greater than those in Upton and the possibility that the factory in Upton would close or be sold to someone with nothing close to a heart for the community.
If you figure that your idea of a community center is more important than the extra classroom space and higher-paid teachers, then you’ll go with Downton. And if you’re wrong about that – the community center never comes about – not only will the people in Upton have your hide, so will those in Downton who disagreed with you from the beginning.
If you go with Upton, you will be de facto and by definition following the money, which goes against the stated Progressive goal of slanting the playing field so the disadvantaged are less so. And, of course, Mr. Jenrus will probably want to show his appreciation to you. This appreciation might take the form of a thank-you note, an invitation to a dinner party, or a twenty-percent discount on all Jenrus Factory products, or two weeks for you and your family on the Riviera. Or it might be a generous contribution to your campaign when you decide to run for governor.
In any case, how do you know if Mr. Jenrus is being corrupt or properly grateful? After all, he didn’t say anything up front about feathering your nest if you decided to take him up on his offer. And many people besides Mr. Jenrus have benefited from your decision, so he would probably not be the only one showing his appreciation for you in tangible ways.
But now the precedent has been set. Given that the human heart is deceptive, desperately wicked, and therefore unknowable, how can you – let alone the population at large – know the next time a similar decision needs to be made whether you are deciding the issue on the merits of the case or “in the best interests of the community,” which just happens to benefit you and your friends? How much of the decision-making process will involve keeping people from thinking you are simply responding to bribes, whether explicit or implicit?
And remember – you’re spending other people’s tax money, presumably including some from New Upton and New Downton.
This lose-lose moral hazard faces every official in tax-funded institutions. But it doesn’t face leaders of voluntary institutions, as you’ll see if you climb into this car over here.
You’re C. Truitt Cathy. You want to build Chick Fil-A High School in New Ton County. For a site you have a choice between New Upton and New Downton. You’re leaning toward New Downton because you want to glorify God by helping those who are poorer, but Colonel Sanders has offered to give the school an appreciable boost only if it’s built in New Upton.
You’re spending your own money for subsidy either way, so it’s not a question of you making a profit or either community suffering a net loss. In fact, it’s a win-win situation, the only question being which way yields the better result over the long term.
But you know that the tangible gratitude of the New Uptonians if you build in New Upton will exceed that of the New Downtonians if you build in New Downton. You want to be a good steward before God so that he will receive the glory and the thanksgiving, but you also know you can’t please everyone no matter what you do. Will the New Downtonians benefit long-term more from a better-funded school or from a shorter commute? Is a better-funded school even necessarily a better school?
You scratch your head for a while and decide on ….
(I didn’t hear a crash. Did you?)