September 23, 2020

Referendum on greed vs. community

In every society, and especially in American society where individualism is highly valued, some individuals are recognized for their community

spirit, while others are noteworthy for their selfishness.

Mainers with great community spirit are recognized annually for their courage and self-sacrifice in public service through a variety of public awards, such as the Jefferson Awards. Others who often deserve such recognition may never receive it, including many public safety officers, school teachers, care givers and emergency medical technicians who perform public service without fanfare day in, day out.

We rely on our neighbor’s sense of community when they watch our back doors, and run for election to school boards, town councils and state legislative seats. We all benefit from their willingness to build and preserve our communities by serving others.

We also recognize people at the shallow end of the pool of community spirit: those who think only of themselves and constantly act to further their own selfish interests, even at the expense of the community. They revel in competition with others in all fields, sometimes interpreting American embrace of individualism and capitalism as a license to steal, as with some executives of Enron, WorldCom and Tyco. They contribute little to the life and well-being of communities, functioning instead as parasites who siphon off resources and exploit human capital.

In recent years we’ve seen it grow fashionable for those who lack public spirit to tear down the institutions of our communities and rend the fabric of society by advancing a series of simplistic tax and spending limits designed to leave more money in the pockets of individuals while starving our schools and local governments. Is there any doubt these efforts are sponsored mostly by wealthy, propertied interests, despite their ability to trot out a few pensioners for public viewing?

These simplistic measures include TABOR, which would limit spending to the rate of inflation plus population growth. Linking spending increases to the rate of inflation ignores the fact there is always greater demand for government services (and therefore expenditures) in periods of low inflation or recession than in periods of increasing inflation. Requiring reductions in spending during economic conditions when they are most needed is a formula for community disaster.

We must acknowledge that these referenda proposals are in the most fundamental sense selfish and antisocial. Disagreements about policy are legitimately resolved within institutions of representative government by majority rule, but spending limits imposed by referendums that make it difficult for majorities to continue to govern are not disagreements about specific policies. They are direct attacks on our constitutional forms of government which seek to subvert legitimate processes of representative government.

Recent spending limits proposed in referenda are actually radical, revolutionary assaults on the entire fabric of society that bypass representative institutions of state and local governments. They are not focused on specific policy disagreements, but seek to starve the whole range of government programs of funds necessary for effective service delivery.

Their intent seems clearly to reduce the ability of government to serve communities and society. It matters little that TABOR was proposed through democratic means-Adolf Hitler attained his office through democratic elections too. It’s the spirit and foreseeable consequences of the proposal that matter most.

American government is, in the final analysis, a manifestation of the collective will of society. Attempts to weaken or destroy it are therefore attacks against the whole of society. Simply put, these are antisocial

acts favoring personal greed over community.

Why should voters reward selfish, antisocial acts when their probable consequences seem so detrimental to communities? We should not. It is not wise to do so. If we do, we give approval to boundless selfishness and act against the very communities we purport to cherish.

A vote for TABOR is therefore an anti-social vote for selfishness. A vote against TABOR is a vote for community. This is why I’m voting NO on no. 1.

Michael S. Hamilton is professor of political science at the University

of Southern Maine.

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