Jack’s story: A politically incorrect civics lesson
by Bob Livingston
A man named Jack finds a beautiful tract of undeveloped land and purchases it. It’s in the middle of nowhere, and he likes it that way. He builds a house and moves his family in. He begins to farm it and build barns and outbuildings and fences and roads on his property.
Over the ensuing months he invites friends and relatives to visit him at his home. They hunt and fish on his property. The friends and relatives see how beautiful and peaceful and idyllic his life is there, and some of them decide they want a part of it.
Pretty soon some of his friends and relatives buy adjacent properties and build houses. They move their families in and begin to build barns and outbuildings and fences and roads. Life for them is good.
Those friends and relatives invite their friends and relatives to visit, and they hunt and fish and see the inherent beauty of the area. Before you know it, some of them are buying adjacent properties, building homes and barns and outbuildings and fences and roads.
One day, one of them decides things are getting out of control. “We need someone to make sure all this development doesn’t get out of hand,” he says. “After all, we moved out here for the area’s beauty and peacefulness and serenity. All these people putting up houses and barns and outbuildings and fences and building roads are taking away from the beauty of it all.” A few others agree, and just like that they decide that what’s needed is a government to get control of things.
“Yes,” they say. “A government, a city council, for instance, can pass laws that will keep all this development under control.”
So they get together and hold a vote and create a city government and elect a few people to “represent” them on the city council. Those people are smart and share a common interest with all of us and will act in the best interests of the community, the majority of the voters believe.
But there’s a problem. The city council has no place to meet and no money. So the council gets together and decides to pass a tax to raise money to build a building.
The tax is passed and the council decides on a building design. But now there’s another problem. There is no one to collect the tax. So a tax collector is hired to collect the tax and keep records of who is paying and who isn’t.
The building the council decides on is a simple and inexpensive one (after all, there is not much money available yet), but a perfect one in which to meet and conduct city business, and of course have an office for the tax collector to work and store records of who is and who isn’t paying the tax. But there’s another problem. The city owns no land on which to build the building.
So the council meets and determines that’s OK, they’ll figure out something. They are, they think, smart people and of course they are only interested in the “greater good” of the community. So the council ponders and discusses and looks around and decides that a piece of Jack’s property would make an excellent site for a new municipal building.
But Jack doesn’t want to sell and doesn’t even want to talk about it. After all, he’s done a lot of work and has spent a lot of time and money to get his place like he wants it.
So the council meets again and decides it must have that property regardless of Jack’s wishes. It passes a new law – eminent domain – and hires an appraiser who establishes a “fair” price for Jack’s property. Again, Jack refuses to sell, so the city council votes to condemn his property, give him the money the appraiser determined the property to be worth, and the council takes it for the city’s building.
Jack is crushed. Part of his beautiful property is no longer his. Not only that, but people who he thought were his friends and family betrayed him by taking his property and they are now calling him selfish and other names because he was being so difficult. After all, turning his land over to the government helped “the greater good” of the community. Why couldn’t he see that and be more cooperative?
So the building is built and the city council meets and discusses city business – sometimes in private. After all, you cannot discuss everything out in the open. Some things are best kept secret. And the council members, being smart and vested with “authority” and interested only in the “greater good” are the best determiners of what should be open and what should be secret.
Meanwhile, the tax collector collects the taxes and stores his records and all is well until one day, some people – Jack and his wife and children – decide they don’t want to pay the tax. After all, they didn’t want the city building in the first place, and they certainly didn’t want it on their land.
So the city council meets to discuss this new development. “We can’t have one person not paying a tax when everyone else has to pay,” they say. “That’s just not ‘fair.’ And we want fairness, and a beautiful community with controlled development, above everything. It’s for the ‘greater good.’”
So they decide to hire an enforcer to make sure the taxes are collected when people become intransigent.
But there’s a problem. The enforcer needs a vehicle and a weapon and training to do his enforcing properly. After all, how can one “enforce” if he doesn’t have a car with a cage in the back and special shackles for those unruly tax cheats, and, of course, a gun. And new laws are needed that give the enforcer “authority.” What good is an enforcer without “authority?”
So the council passes new laws and hires an enforcer to enforce with authority. He goes to arrest Jack and his wife and children for being tax cheats. But there’s a new problem. There’s no place to hold Jack and his wife and children.
The council hastily meets and decides it must build a jail and a police station. What good is an enforcer with authority if he doesn’t have a jail to house those over which he’s exercised his authority and a station from which to police?
But there’s another problem. The tax doesn’t collect enough money to build a jail and keep paying the enforcer and maintain the enforcer’s car.
So the council meets and passes another tax, and everyone is happy – everyone except Jack and his family, that is. Oh, and of course, the council is not happy anymore because they’ve just realized the building is not big enough for a jail and an enforcer’s office and all the enforcer’s records of people who defied authority, so it must add on to the building. And now there’s another problem. More land is needed.
Since Jack is in jail, he’s in no position to negotiate over the taking of more of his land, and that little piece adjacent isn’t really big enough anyway, so the council uses eminent domain to take more of Jack’s land, and it also eyes land owned by Jack’s neighbor, Bill. But Bill, who has worked hard to get his property just so, decides he doesn’t want to sell.
That’s OK, the council says, we have this eminent domain law at our disposal. So it exercises eminent domain, gives Bill the appraiser-determined “fair price” and takes the land and builds a new jail and police station.
Bill is crushed. Part of his beautiful property is no longer his. Not only that, but people who he thought were his friends and family betrayed him by taking his property and are now calling him selfish and other names because he was being so difficult. After all, turning his land over to the government helped “the greater good” of the community. Why couldn’t he see that and be more cooperative?
One day a resident comes before the council and complains of dogs roaming the streets and acting menacingly toward him when he goes out for walks. “What we need are leash laws,” he says.
The council agrees and passes a leash law determining that all dogs must be leashed or the owner will be fined and the dog captured and held until the fine is paid. The enforcer working for the city has neither any experience working with dogs – outside of shooting them when they are in his way – nor equipment to capture them or any place to house them, so the council determines a dog catcher is needed.
But there’s a problem. There is no money to pay a dog catcher, no truck for the dog catcher to drive around in to “enforce” the leash law, and no place to keep the dogs that are caught while unleashed.
So the council agrees to raise the two taxes already passed and hire a dog catcher and buy a truck and build a building — they have more than enough room on the new property they just took from Jack and Bill — in which to house wayward dogs once captured.
Since not everyone is happy having a dog catcher snatching up their dogs, and even more people are now unhappy they are having to pay extra taxes they never bargained for, more enforcers are needed to accompany the dog catcher and to exercise “authority” over the dog leash scofflaws and tax cheats and to make sure the dog catcher is safe and the taxes are paid.
This necessarily requires more enforcer vehicles and more enforcer equipment for the exercising of “authority,” and more space for enforcers to stay in while they discuss their authority and store their records on tax and dog leash scofflaws and other people who defied authority now housed in their jails.
The council, deciding their current building is now insufficient for its needs, decides it must build a bigger building. That building would house all city services in one place for “convenience.” It’s important, after all, to make it convenient for people to pay their fines and taxes so they have no excuses not to comply, which would require sending enforcers out to enforce their authority.
Naturally, new taxes and more land are needed for the new all-encompassing municipal building to be built as it should be. And Tom has some land adjacent to Jack’s and Bill’s that would be perfect for the new city building.
But Tom doesn’t want to sell. He’s gotten his property just so. It’s been in his family for years. His dad actually built the place up and willed it to Tom when he died. It has great sentimental value to Tom.
But sentimental value is irrelevant to the council. The building is needed for the “greater good.” So a price is set and the land is taken and Tom has to settle for the “appraised” value of his home.
The council meets and passes a new tax and approves a building design and a new building is built and the council is happy.
But some of the people are not. There are people building buildings that are too big or shaped funny and have unusual materials in them, and they make the community look bad. So a Building Inspector Department is formed and a building inspector hired to inspect all buildings. Now, all buildings must be “approved” by the inspector, and he only approves those built a certain way. With a wink and a nod, he decides he’ll only approve those made from certain materials supplied by certain suppliers and built by certain builders (those that give him the best gifts.).
A woman complains that her neighbor doesn’t cut his grass often enough and lets his bushes and trees grow unchecked. So a Department of Grass Inspection is created and a grass inspector is hired to inspect and measure the grass and he’s given a car and a special government ruler costing hundreds of dollars with which to measure grass and bushes.
Complaints roll in about potholes so a Road Department is formed and specifications for roads created. Roads that don’t meet specifications are torn up and replaced.
A dilapidated bridge needs replacing so a Department of Bridges and Abutments is formed and rules for bridge construction and maintenance are created. Bridges and abutments that fall short of standards must be torn up and replaced.
Now some people, particularly Jack and Bill and Tom and some others are really unhappy. They didn’t bargain for all the taxes and all the authority and the laws being passed and enforced by the enforcers.
Not only that, but there are rumors the appraiser took a kickback in order to keep the price of the property low for the city, which naturally cheated Tom out of money that was rightfully his. And some new businesses were given tax breaks and relieved of the responsibility of paying certain taxes that some other businesses didn’t get. And it’s election time.
One day, Jack complains about all the taxes and authority and rules and regulations. But the rules are regulations and authority are all necessary for progress, he is told. Only someone who wanted to halt progress would oppose rules and regulations and authority.
A council member tells Jack if he doesn’t like rules and regulations and authority, perhaps he should just move somewhere else. “Yes,” some in the audience exclaim. “If you don’t like rules and regulations and authority and progress, you should just move to Somalia. It has no rules and regulations and you can see how that turned out. You’d be happier in Somalia if you don’t like rules and regulations and progress.”
So Jack and Bill and Tom get together to ponder these developments and try to find a way to rein in this out-of-control government. They are declared by some as “anti-progressives,” and people begin to call them names and shun them as crackpots.
Tom runs for council, as do several of Jack’s and Bill’s friends. It turns out that a lot of people are unhappy with the over-burdensome government but have been hesitant to say so, and most of the council members are defeated – one or two weren’t so bad, were they? – and everyone is sure things will change and rules and regulations will be scaled back and taxes will be lowered.
But after a meeting, most of new council members agree with the old council members that the city has “obligations” that must be met. The city has debt and has made promises that must be kept. Bond issues must be paid, even if they don’t like the ideas and the projects on which the money was promised.
These obligations prohibit the reduction of taxes right now. Furthermore, more businesses have moved into the area and they need to be regulated. Why, they might sell some tainted food or raise their prices or not pay people a “living wage” or commit some other “serious” offense. You can’t have that in a civilized society, can you?
So taxes stay the same. In fact, since a business inspector is needed to make sure all the businesses are properly “regulated,” taxes may even have to be raised soon, the new council says. It’s common sense that the new inspector needs a car to drive around in in order to inspect. And records of regulation breakers need to be kept, so more space is needed for that, and a secretary must be hired to field calls about possible regulatory violations.
And certainly more enforcers are needed to keep the inspector safe while he does his inspecting job. You see, not everyone is keen on the idea of an inspector barging in unannounced and making an inspection and disrupting business.
Jack, now being old and in bad health from the stress of “fighting city hall” to little or no avail, passes away. His property is willed to his children.
Jack’s children, though, have grown tired of “city life.” They long for the “good old days” of their youth growing up in the country free of laws and enforcers. Not only that, but now they owe a big inheritance tax on Jack’s property. Paying it would be financially burdensome to them. So they sell their property – what the government hadn’t already taken – and find a beautiful tract of undeveloped land and purchase it.
It’s in the middle of nowhere, and they like it that way. They build houses and move their families in. They begin to farm it and build barns and outbuildings and fences and roads on their property.
Over the ensuing months they invite friends and relatives to visit them at their homes. They hunt and fish on the property. The friends and relatives see how beautiful and peaceful and idyllic the life is there, and some of them decide they want a part of it…