Imagine this scenario. The billionaire owner of a professional football team walks into the Shark Tank and makes the following pitch to the sharks:
Hello, sharks. I’m building a one billion dollar stadium and I want you to kick in $500 million. For that $500 million, you will get no equity stake in my team. Nor will you get a royalty fee on any of the merchandise we sell. Nor will you get a percentage of the concessions we sell. Nor will you get any naming rights to the stadium we build. The only thing you will get for your $500 million is the joy of knowing you kept me from taking my team to another city. Okay, sharks, who’s ready to hand over $500 million?
Not only would none of the sharks jump at this “opportunity,” but I think there’s a good chance Barbara would get up and body slam this idiot owner for making such a ridiculous proposal.
The Sad Truth about Politicians
But you know who would jump at this offer? Your friendly neighborhood politician, that’s who.
Over the past twenty years, taxpayers have shelled out over $7 billion to help billionaire owners build stadiums. And as far as I can tell, the taxpayers haven’t gotten any equity or royalty fees for this generosity. You would think that their representatives—you know, those politicians who are always fighting for the little guy—would at least negotiate deals that secured free parking and fan-friendly concession prices. But no. The peasants—er, I mean the taxpayers—not only have the joy of subsidizing billionaires, they also have the joy of paying upwards of $75 for parking and $10.75 for a beer whenever they deign to see a game in person.
It’s freakin’ absurd.
It’s also business as freakin’ usual. I try not to be cynical, but I just can’t think of an example where politicians were either good stewards of taxpayer money or did something right without first receiving a legal bribe (i.e., a campaign contribution). Remember my Junior IRA idea? What possible downside is there to kids having retirement accounts that can be funded by family, friends, and charitable organizations? None. Kids would learn the power of compound interest before they entered the labor force; those wishing to bestow gifts upon children would have a more thoughtful alternative to gift cards, toys, and video games; and society would have fewer 60-year-olds in the future with nothing saved for retirement. But unless someone comes up with a lot of money, my Junior IRA will never be part of any bill produced by Congress.
Here’s the sad truth about politicians. If they’re honest, their primary concern is capturing legal bribes. If they’re not, their primary concern is capturing illegal bribes. And if they do anything right by the little guy, it’s only because someone out-bribed the guys who wanted to screw the little guy.
The Sad Truth about Government Employees
I worked for over twenty-one years in government. And I don’t recall meeting a lot of public servants. I did meet a lot of public mediocrities and a lot of public bums, though.
Here’s the sad truth about government employees. Government employees are just as self-interested as anyone in the private sector. In other words, people don’t suddenly become angels just because they get a paycheck from the taxpayers. If it’s a choice between advancing their well-being and advancing the public’s well-being, government employees will likely choose the former. That’s why highway crews have more guys standing around than shoveling. That’s why government agencies rarely have office hours at night or on the weekend. And that’s why teacher unions are always pushing for smaller class sizes and larger salaries and pension benefits for their members.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that there are no public servants. There are tons of government employees who work their tails off and do right by the taxpayers. The problem is that the public mediocrities, public bums, and public scoundrels far outnumber the public servants.
Okay, now it’s time to put a financial spin on this post. Given that the typical politician and bureaucrat’s devotion to you is fickle at best, who is apt to do a better job of advancing your financial well-being: you or the government? If you pointed to yourself, go straight to the head of the class.
It’s hard to believe. I know. But despite the enormous size of government, and despite the millions of bureaucrats that swarm hither and yon, you are essentially all by yourself. If you fail to acquire a skill that employers esteem, you will suffer the indignity of low pay and sporadic employment. If you fail to control your appetite for stuff, you will become a slave to banks and credit card companies. And if you fail to save for retirement, you will have a very dreary existence once your ability to work ends.
The federal government is $19 trillion in debt. Nearly every state in the union has a grossly underfunded pension system. The safety net is not going to become more robust. College will not be free. There will not be Medicare for all. The government simply has neither the ability nor the desire to become your wet nurse. It is far too busy nursing a well-established core of teat-sucking constituents, and those teat-sucking constituents have way more clout than you do.
The Donald isn’t going to save you. And neither is The Mitch, The Chuck, The Paul, and The Nancy.
Becoming a PRW
We’re a few weeks shy of 2017. If you’re contemplating a resolution for the new year, how about this one: dedicate yourself to becoming a PRW, a Personal Responsibility Warrior. Embrace the mindset that you and you alone are responsible for your health, your education, your finances, your retirement, your safety net, your children, your transgressions, your mistakes, your spiritual well-being, and your happiness. If someone wants to help you or give you a break, great. If the government manages to make your life a little easier, awesome. But never count on the kindness of strangers. It’s all on you.
Will a PRW mindset prove helpful? Probably. There are no guarantees, of course. But my guess is that those who count on themselves will have a much better shot at success—financial or otherwise—than those who count on politicians and bureaucrats.
Okay, groovy freedomists, that’s all I got. Are you up to becoming a PRW? Or is my lack of faith in the government wildly misplaced? What say you?