Thursday, August 16, 2012
The Sum of Good Government
One of the interesting things about the western US is how recent most of our recorded history is. It's easier to illustrate points without having to go back hundreds of years when a community started. The town i live in was not really settled much by 1900. There is a large flat area, called 'grasshopper flats' because fishermen used to stop & catch grasshoppers when they came to fish in the creek. There were a few farms, but not much at that time.. a couple of orchards, some cattle ranches, some hunters & hermits. Two brothers came in the '20's & each homesteaded a parcel. They were both stonemasons, & built some homes, and an inn that still stands. By the '40's, they sold their land to a lady who had made her fortune in mining in Nevada (some say she also ran a bordello, but that's just a colorful side note). She bought up a lot of the land, which had little practical use, because there was no water to irrigate crops or water homes. She paid to have a deep well dug, & once water was found, started developing the land. People from Phoenix bought lots & built cabins & summer homes, to escape the low desert heat. Eventually a town was established, with businesses, gas stations, grocery stores, shops, schools, churches, & all the usual small town trappings. When i moved here in the mid '80s, most of the land was unimproved.. about 25% was developed. It is almost like an island, here, because it is surrounded by national forest.. public lands. Now, it is about 95% improved. There are some larger parcels around, & a few lots that are empty, but it has grown a lot in the last 20 yrs.
This same history is repeated all over the country, & the world. You get some industrious people improving the raw land.. they plant fruit trees, tend them, & sell the fruit. They build houses & barns. Others raised cattle or sheep. They sold their livestock to other people, or traded for goods or services. Then an investor comes & adds more value.. not from their own direct labor, but they pay someone else to make the improvement, like the lady who dug the well. The brothers who sold their land made a profit.. they had money to live in town, & probably did not have to do stone work in their old age. They provided a necessary requirement for human survival: Housing. Others provided food. I'm sure there were tailors, hardware shops, bootmakers & other support services that benefited from the production of the area. The lady who developed & started selling lots also profited from her investment, even though she herself did not make any improvements.. but she paid for it, hiring others to do the actual work. The 2 brothers were able to do similar things with the proceeds from their land sales.. they were now 'capitalists'.. investors who used capital to work for them. Now they were able to profit from the labors of others, as they could hire work done, & still sell a house & make a profit.
By the time i came around, there were no homesteading opportunities. I was able to borrow from some capitalists, buy a lot, build a house, & sell it. The interest was pretty high, then, but the numbers worked. The demand for homes was there, so i could buy the raw materials & make something that people needed. I did almost all the work. I drew up the plans, got the permits, poured footings, installed septic systems, plumbed & wired the house, drove every nail in every board, & put together a house that would provide a protective, climate controlled environment for another family. I hired out the heating & cooling, & the drywall hanging, employing other contractors & paying them with the money i borrowed from the capitalists. I also had to use some of the money i borrowed to live on & to support my kids. But even with the cost of borrowing capital from others, i was able to provide a product that competed in the market. I repeated this process over the next 20+ yrs, employing my sons & teaching them useful skills.
This micro culture started simply, & has become much more complex as has the world. Technology improved methods & materials, & made what used to take a lot more work, easier. During this time, govt increased too. Police & fire districts formed out of necessity. Building regulations were adopted to protect the consumer from shady, fly by night contractors. The city incorporated a few years ago, as growth put too much weight on the county. I provided a lot of income for a variety of people in the community.. lumber salesmen, drivers, govt workers, teachers, utility companies, grocery stores, etc. But my provision also expanded across the globe as i bought goods from other places.. trucks, tools, electronics, clothing, food, etc. As long as i was able to build a marketable home, my increase spread to others, & their increase spread to me. We are all interconnected, & as long as the community is industrious & protected from thieves & vandals, growth is inevitable, & with it prosperity for all those who provide a useful service.
I think even in large cities, or taking the country as a whole, the same principles apply. This industrious working class.. the producers in society.. are what has made the US middle class the largest & most prosperous in world history. We have benefited from our pooled resources & built an infrastructure, providing roads, national defense, & other useful communal services. The previous generation in my family worked & increased their family's wealth, not by stealing, or begging, or conning others out of their labors, but by working themselves.. in hard times.. & they raised families & life went on. Previous generations before did the same, not enjoying the levels of technology that we have now, but they had similar struggles & difficulties in life. My children & grandchildren will do the same. Those who work smart & hard will usually see positive results. We are all in a time line..generations before & after will live, love, work, & die in their time. All we can hope for is the freedom & opportunity to build our own lives. If the capitalists charge too much in interest, it takes away from the fruit of the labor of the worker. If the govt charges too much in taxes for govt services, the same is true. And if govt tries to do too much, wasting the fruits of our labors on inefficient or corrupt spending programs, it takes from those who produce. Good govt should try to maximize the fruits of the labors of the workers.. by providing cost effective, useful services. They should also enforce fair regulations to prevent the capitalists from exploiting the workers. This is the sum of good govt. This is all we need.. no more, no less.