With the dawning of Utah’s new fiscal year, we’ve reset our state spending clock to show you, real time, how quickly the state spends our tax dollars. We understand governments have a legitimate and vital role to play in our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. And we also understand the inherent and insidious “spending bias” created by the very nature of our political system.
That system is built to collect tax dollars from taxpayers to “solve” apparent “needs” in the service of the common good. The desires that drive this system are human. Legislators perceive a public need and determine resources to try to solve that need. The issue, of course, is that those resources aren’t created by government. They are created by we, the people. Those resources are otherwise sacred.
What elected officials do with these resources comes, rightly so, with increased scrutiny.
The idea of civil society within a democratic republic is that government provides an ordered framework for a free society to thrive and flourish, and lets the people voluntarily do what they do best: deliver the highest quality of life ever known to mankind. This is a very symbiotic relationship. Unfortunately, governments can turn toxic, hurting their citizens through excessive regulations, overly burdensome taxes, market manipulation, cronyism, preferential tax breaks and government competition with private enterprise.
Government will call these activities “essential.” They claim the free market does better with their interventions—“Look at the amazing RETURN ON INVESTMENT! That wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t do what we did!” As if their intervention was the only or main factor in a private entity’s actions or success.
More important still: government intervention in the free market is inherently unfair. The “logic” or “results” they use to justify their actions is irrelevant. By interfering in free enterprise, governments have to make determinations about who gets their preferential treatment and who doesn’t. You’ve heard it called “picking winners and losers.” And it’s a double-edged sword for private business and non-profit alike. One day you’re in the preferred industry or one of the favored businesses or groups. The next day, you’re not, and suddenly your competition has that government-granted advantage over you that you used to have over them.
On the insidious side of things, the more this “law of the jungle” prevails in government, the more it invites others to participate in it – to get while the getting is good. Over time, and predictably enough, businesses with the greatest political resources win out over their competitors, and Big Business and Big Government quickly become not-so-strange bedfellows; a deep culture of corruption can be created.
Sutherland’s constant and consistent reply to all of this is simply to trust the free market to do what only it can do. No person, no government office, no academic can hold all the strings of the free market and accurately predict cause and effect, behaviors, innovations, incentives, demands, needs, wants, supplies, scarcities, surpluses, trends, natural disasters, man-made calamities, greed, charity and so on (see the excellent I, Pencil video for more on this). Because of that limitation, tinkering with the free market leads to harm. Real, individual lives are hurt. Trusting the social and moral framework of the free market is not simply the philosophical or ideological thing to do, but the humble, prudent and, ultimately, human thing to do.
And if governments absolutely have to do something!, they should apply their actions to all business, across the board, like lowering tax rates or providing market analysis tools to all through economic gardening. They can also make spending sustainable so that they don’t need to take more and more from their citizens. The Utah Spending Clock is a constant reminder of that sought-after balance.