With the general election now the next big event (if the primaries in Rhode Island can even be said to be a big event), I took a look at the bonds that will be on the November ballot. In total, we’ve got $227.5 million (nearly a quarter-billion dollars) in new debt that Rhode Islanders will likely approve, not including the tens of millions more that municipalities are surely seeking.
That’s crazy. Government bonds are one area of democratic action that make me mildly sympathetic to progressive inclinations to limit the franchise to those with some basic knowledge. They’re also a reason I wonder if progressives might be incorrect to assume a more-educated electorate would tend in their direction. What might voters do differently if they understood that debt isn’t just free money to spend on feel-good projects?
Making matters worse, these bonds aren’t just desperate attempts to gain money to build things for which the state should have budgeted with regular revenue; some of them are clearly policy issues. How many voters, I wonder, would really want to supply the state government with borrowed money to buy up even more property in the state?
Would voters really fall for these schemes if they took the time to consider just how much of it will (or at least can) become subsidies for private businesses — from the URI “innovation campuses” to help private businesses use public-university research to come up with new products and services for a profit to the government purchase and discounted resale of farmland to improvement of ports that benefit a limited number of businesses at public expense? All of these things benefit narrow groups at the expense of everybody else.
Even more concerning is that, when you add them all together, the picture becomes one not of a few included groups siphoning off public resources, but a comprehensive system that ultimately excludes those who don’t receive some sort of public aid. If you’re an ordinary Rhode Islander who wants to know who those excluded parties are, take a look at your latest selfie.
Apparently every hyper-informed person in every ideological group believes that the public would agree with his or her beliefs if only people were better educated, but I can’t help but think that my ideological group is correct in that belief. As the saying goes, everybody’s conservative when it comes to the things he or she knows best. I simply don’t believe that people who’d been shown the corrupt, incestuous connections building into a web that ensnares our freedom and opportunity would continue to support such things… or the politicians and organizations who work so hard to make them a reality.