how very un-libertarian of me.

Our school district has a combined middle school and high school. It’s over forty years old and not in the best shape anymore.

Every year for the last few years, they’ve put a proposition on the town ballot to bump the property taxes a little so they can use the extra money to finance a thorough renovation and expansion of the middle/high school complex that serves five different towns. Every year, it has failed so far, by ever-declining margins. Yesterday they had another town election for local offices, and the proposition was once again on the ballot. And like good Libertarians, we voted to…support the renovation?

That’s right, I voted to not only see my own property taxes increase, but also those of all the other property owners in my town and the four towns next to ours. How on EARTH does this jive with the libertarian principles of lower taxes and less government?

Turns out my concerns are both self-interest and communal benefits. In the self-interest column, I supported the school renovation because if there’s a chance my kids are going to attend that school (we plan on exploring alternate educational routes once they get to middle school age, but you never know), I want that middle/high school to not be an unsafe 40-year-old school in danger of losing accreditation. In the communal benefits column, I supported the school renovation because it increases property values and the desirability of my home town in the long run. The town is more attractive to prospective new residents with a renovated high school that can meet the needs of the district’s students in the future. Lastly, I think it’s a reasonable investment–it adds an amount in the low hundreds to our annual tax bill, which is trivial in the long run. And I won’t mind the cost even if we decide to not send our kids to that newly renovated school in a few years after all.

So there you have it: I’m a TERRIBLE libertarian, voting to increase my taxes to improve my home town a bit. Ayn Rand would sneer, call me a “looter”, and then go back to writing some 1,500-page tome where people give three-hour radio speeches.

(Oh, and the measure passed this year. In our town, voters approved it with a 3:1 margin.)

23 thoughts on “how very un-libertarian of me.

  1. That’s one of the nice things about being a Libertarian…. you can move around a bit idea-wise and still be okay.

    You just moved more in the direction of the Albert Jay Nock school of thought for this round.

  2. But… I suspect the referendum that passed was not the first one proposed. (Really if they just put the same proposal out until it passed… I would question a lot of things…)
    Schools are “For the children”, but there has to be balance between an open check book (Yes the Administration building NEEDS gilded lilies on the commodes…) and the buildings falling down due to lack of maintenance. Our town has made these proposals also, and usually a version passes… eventually… So some reasonableness needs to be applied on BOTH sides of the checkbook.

  3. People can be expected to act in their self-interest. It’s good that the majority’s self-interest coincided- doesn’t happen often.

    For me, with a move to FL and out of MA on the table, I’ve got charter school applications out and about.

  4. Libertarians, doctrinally, should only have a problem with the coercive part (of forcing everyone to pay, not just those in favor).

    There’s no libertarian argument against wanting to pay a third party to do maintenance on facilities you or others use.

  5. I knew the school well as a guest. In the 80s & early 90s my sister was an English teacher there, and two good friends of mine who have also occasionally worked for me both recently retired out of there (the Canaan fire chief was a French teacher, and the Orange forest fire warden was a Math teacher). I had always heard good things about the programs, but never about the infrastructure.

    Last time I set foot in the building, Ron Reagan was getting re-elected. I guess if it hadn’t been kept up, then sure it must have been in need of some TLC.

    My opinions on taxes & schools sure took a change when I became a Dad. Then I became more proud as a citizen for the several decades of paying the school taxes when at the time I didn’t have any kids. I like your “I’m a libertarian, but…” justifications. Very well-reasoned.

  6. call me a looter as well, I will always vote for a school millage.

    My schools are well maintained, well run, and well respected locally (and on a state level)

    I figure as long as the “well run” part is true then the gilded lillies will never be an issue, and building or improving schools helps to negate the need for building or improving prisions and welfare.

  7. You’ve made Ayn Rand cry. Are you happy?

    As you may not be surprised to hear I agree with your perspective. A healthy, educated and informed young populous only helps to keep everyone working and functioning. Who the hell wants a 70 year old EMT or firefighter?

    • At least school funding is pretty much local. While I look askance at what some local school boards get up to in terms of curriculae; the idea of local control over local funding and local curricula is the limited gov’t ideal.

  8. I see no major problems with your rationale. Locally here a mill levy increase was knocked down recently – but the school district is not in need of new funds, especially considering they just opened a couple of multi-million dollar facilities.

    In fact those facilities lead directly to the defeat of the current mill increase because people noted that *typically* the city voter is allowed to vote on the building of new schools. They usually pass – but the voter gets his say, at least.

    They built the last two without a citywide referendum.

    So when they came hat in hand for no money, the voter decided to remind them.

  9. I’m just wondering if there weren’t other ways they could trim the fat and find the money without raising your taxes. Also, after the renovation is paid for, what will the rest of the continuing flow of money be used for? A trust fun for future school maintenance and renovation? I’ll bet not…

  10. Why force everyone to pay more taxes?

    The morally correct way to do this is to have a voluntary fund raiser. Those who appreciate the benefits, donate (read: invest) money in the school. Voluntarily!

    When you fund schools by voluntary donations, the schools have the right to set conditions for taking pupils, for example different fees based on parent’s involvement in funding. Or some other mechanisms which prevent parasitic people from taking advantage of the community.

    • It’s a scary moment when one realizes all the other monkeys in the cage have their own views about how the world should work, and that they might not necessarily jibe with yours.

      Fortunately, most people never have to endure that moment.

  11. In California we have the opposite situation. For decades these school bond bills pass handily, we have a lottery whose profits are to go only for such infrastructure maintenance and improvements, we have the education section of the budget from Sacramento easily forming the majority of the budget (although the last five years here I’m not sure vis a vis pensions), and every election someone has a new idea and new bond issue for funding some new style of fancy lilies for the commodes or fancy pay envelopes for the teachers. And still reading and math scores slide with no end in sight, Bullies plague the school yards. Everything would be just fine, depending on who you speak to, if only there were just a little accountability tied to the budgeting, or if the seventeen Republicans left in the legislature would just stop thinking ugly thoughts about the Dems when they pass the bills.