Thursday, September 29, 2011


Merryle Rukeyser once said on his son’s long-running “Wall Street Week” TV show that a liberal is someone who’s liberal with other people’s money.

The half-billion dollar loan dished out by President Obama’s Energy Department to the politically connected and now bankrupt Solyndra Corporation is a potentially criminal case-in-point.

Rukeyser’s aphorism was given additional weight by Professor Arthur Brooks’ 2006 book, “Who Really Cares,” a scholarly investigation that showed conservatives, on average, give much more time and money to charitable activities than their liberal counterparts—a disparity that holds true even when one excludes contributions made to churches.

A corollary to Rukeyser’s definition is that liberals are also more likely to lobby for taxpayer funding with the taxpayer’s own money.

A few months ago I noted that a local PBS station was using its government-subsidized broadcast time to encourage viewers to support continued Congressional funding for public broadcasting. Now I see that Riverside County has a court web page encouraging county residents to petition the Governor “to restore vital funding to the court and provide more judges to hear cases.”

This taxpayer-funded lobbying effort even includes sample letters addressed to Governor Brown and state legislators that contend Riverside County needs twice as many judges than it currently has.

I have no problem with arguments in favor of increased funding for the court system, but that a government web page is doing the lobbying poses a serious issue—namely, whether government officials and government-sponsored groups should be using government funds to solicit the general public for more funding.

The fact that even conservative Riverside County has taken up this dubious practice isn’t a good sign.

Both politicians and ordinary citizens are free to make arguments about how public money should be spent. But putatively non-political government officials and institutions shouldn’t themselves solicit the general public for funds.

A similar problem arises when public employee unions use their political clout to sweeten employment benefits—a common scenario where government employees sit on both sides of the bargaining table without a clear bottom line to stiffen the spines of pliant politicians.

This negotiating imbalance is one of the reasons even FDR said, “All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service.” He added that “militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees.”

Unfortunately, the militancy recently exhibited by public workers in Wisconsin now matches the audacity of both public and private groups for whom government has become a gigantic trough of other people’s money.

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