Everyone wants to do big things. You don’t run for government because you want to see 10 per cent fewer plows on the roads, or a one per cent drop in property taxes. You don’t win compliance from civil servants by promising to employ fewer of their friends and give their departments smaller budgets. And you don’t devote decades to public service for an anti-legacy: a long list of projects you voted against because you felt voters were better judges of what to do with their money than you were.
So I suppose it’s no surprise some geniuses in Alberta think a high-speed rail line connecting Calgary to Edmonton’s a good idea: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/10/02/jesse-kline-alberta-should-be-wary-about-bullet-trains-even-private-ones/
Honestly, to realize how stupid this idea is, you can just skip ahead to the second last paragraph: the only high-speed rail lines that turn a profit service populations in the tens of millions. The Alberta line would service a couple million.
In other words, like so many government projects, this has nothing to do with good sense or smart decision-making, and everything to do with ego fulfillment.
Taxes are not a community resource. They are the wealth of all the individuals that make up the community. That money shouldn’t be used to do what a few people think is right. It should be used to do what a lot of people think is necessary. Otherwise it’s just theft.
I might think a duck pond would make my neighbourhood look better – and maybe it really would. But I don’t get to break into the homes of my neighbours and steal their things to fund my personal project, not even if that duck pond would be enjoyed by everyone and would improve everyone’s property values. Too bad – not my decision to make.
Winning an election doesn’t give you license to make those decisions either.
Roads and police, hospitals, utilities and schools – these are appropriate tax expenditures. Train tracks to service commerce and passengers, yes. Bullet trains just cuz they’re sexy, no.
“But what about art, festivals and culture? Aren’t they important?”
Yes, they are. Or rather, I believe they are, and you probably do, too. But Bob across the street likes hobby models and television (and not the CBC, either), while Janice is partial to bowling and baking. Should their private interests receive public funding, too?
We all want a vibrant, clean, safe community. I just happen to think the moral way to get that is with less government and more participation from private citizens. We have ceded more and more power to government and along the way we’ve abdicated responsibility and lost freedom. The logical outcome? Pedestrian men and women commanding big budgets making stupid pitches for outlandish ideas.
It’s not about what you or I want. It’s about what’s reasonable to make each other pay for. I’m not going to knock on your door and ask you to pitch in when I want to buy an iPhone 5. But I might ask you to hoist a bucket of water when a fire breaks out in my kitchen. Expecting help in the first case would be absurd. Lending help in the second is just basic decency.
There will never be a shortage of people willing to spend your money on things they want. Too many of them are in government.