Friday, April 30, 2010

The Principal and the Principle

In an effort to address the city's $140 million budget deficit, Mayor Ma Parker has asked city department heads to find savings of 3 percent in their budgets. The Chronicle quotes her:
I am asking every department to examine what services they provide, the level at which they provide it and whether somebody else should be doing it. This is a great opportunity to rethink how we do things.
This is true, but will Ma and her cohorts in City Hall truly rethink how they do things? It is highly doubtful, because to date they have refused to examine the basic principles underlying their governance. Consider, for example, Ma's claim that she is looking into the possibility of privatizing the city's ambulance service.

While I would certainly applaud such a move, it does not represent a principled step towards returning government to its proper function--protection individual rights. It is a singular, pragmatic proposal, intended to address the budget deficit and nothing else.

If privatizing ambulance services will be a good thing, why isn't Ma considering privatizing every other improper government service--water, sanitation, trash collection, libraries, parks, and much more? If privatizing ambulance services will help the city save money, why isn't the same true of other privatization efforts? I can only speculate as to Ma's answer, but it would likely be something along the lines of: "The city has certain responsibilities to Houstonians."

The truth is, the city's only responsibility is to protect our moral right to act according to our own judgment, to use our property as we deem best (so long as we respect the mutual rights of others). But Ma has rejected this principle. The result is a constant stream of contradictions.

While finalizing a deal to build a new playground for the Dynamo soccer team, she raises the health insurance premiums for retired city workers. While calling for budget cuts in every city department, she presses forward with plans to build a giant boondoggle--light rail. While mouthing platitudes about job creation, she supports positions that kill jobs--for example, the anti-Ashby High Rise movement. Of course, she doesn't see these as contradictions, but as isolated, disconnected issues.

The details of balancing the budget are admittedly complex, and I wouldn't begin to claim to have all of the answers. But in principle, the solution is quite simple--begin reducing government to its proper function. If the city's principal leader grasped this fact, her job would be much easier. And Houstonians would be much better off--we could keep more of the money we earn and we would have more freedom.

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