Friday, November 04, 2011

Athens on the Mississippi

HL Mencken famously said “the cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy”. Mister, we could use a man like HL Mencken again. Lots of stories of democracy taking it in the shorts of late.

From Europe, Daniel Hannan on the reaction of EU bureaucracy to the specter of the Greek people getting a chance to vote on how their economy will be run for the next few years:

I wish I could convey the sheer writhing horror that George Papanderou's referendum proposal has provoked in Brussels. Eurocrats instinctively dislike referendums. They feel that their work is too important and complicated to be vulnerable to the prejudices of hoi polloi.

Closer to home, Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley, on the specter of Minnesota taxpayers getting to vote on how their tax dollars are spent::

Our belief has always been that the Vikings stadium proposal should be held to the same process as the Twins-Hennepin County ballpark, as well as the vast majority of issues considered by the state legislature and every local government in Minnesota. Elected officials have had – and will continue to have - the opportunity to analyze this complex issue and make the best decision in the public interest.

Across two continents and an ocean, a unifying theme emerges. The average citizen is too stupid to correctly decide their own fate. Somewhere Fidel Castro and Hu Jintao are nodding approvingly.

I suppose you *might* be able to argue this point when it comes to international high finance and multilateral currency unions, with the fate of the entire world economy riding on making the correct decision. But, there are people out there who really believe we can’t be trusted to decide whether or not it’s worth it to spend vast sums of our scarce resources on a football stadium?

The “I’m with stupid” argument is not a strong one, at least while the stupid still yield some power. They apparently don’t in Greece, as the referendum on their future has been cancelled. The Greeks can now kick back, relax, and let their enlightened overseers guide them to the glorious new day. But in Minnesota, the stupid still have the power to elect the politicians who will decide what happens with the Vikings stadium. And there was enough resistance to put a scare into Gov. Dayton and the Republican legislators and the plot to kill a referendum has been effectively thwarted.

The proponents of massive public subsidy for a Vikings stadium now need to jump to a related, but slightly different argument, articulated here by Vikings owner Zygi Wilf:

A proposed football stadium in Arden Hills should not have to face a Ramsey County referendum, because Hennepin County didn't need one to build Target Field, Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said.

"We would like to be held on the same playing field as the Twins," Wilf said. "I know when we were here six years ago advocating for a stadium up in the north, Anoka, that the Legislature not only approved without referendum the Twins deal, but also approved a football stadium."

It’s the “fairness” argument, most commonly used by children who feel their siblings got a disproportionately large piece of the birthday cake. It appears Wilf’s parents never laid the “life isn’t fair” retort on little Zygi, because he still feels he deserves his full share of the spoils.

Beyond the fact that two situations are not synonymous (the Vikings stadium would cost the tax payers hundreds of millions more than Target Field), the argument itself is preposterous. Because we made one irresponsible spending decision, we are compelled to approve all other irresponsible spending proposals, otherwise it wouldn’t be fair.

If that logic was accepted, next thing you know we’d be subsidizing such things as luxury water fountains, speeches by comic book authors for 50 grand, and the decadent lifestyles of public radio employees. Er, wait a minute ….

Given our history in Minnesota, it’s not surprising the Vikings would feel entitled to enrich themselves at the public’s expense. And, ultimately, we only have the people to blame for this. When not directly voting to allow for this type of wasteful spending (see the Legacy Amendment), they continually vote for the politicians that enable it to continue.

The Tea Party movement represents a backlash against this system and maybe the last, best hope for getting some sanity back into government spending. At least some politicians are starting to notice, as evidenced by this comment from Ramsey County Commissioner Tony Bennett.

"I don't think you could get a library passed on a referendum. Never mind an ice arena or a playground, if it were the only issue on the ballot. No matter what we put on a ballot today that costs money, I don't think anybody would look at it," he said.

Seems like common sense to me and the first steps of a course correction. But the problem is, the politicians like Bennett see this opinion not as his marching order on how to govern, but as a challenge to be worked around.