It never ends. It’s the worst at the federal level, but it also occurs incessantly at the local level. Frederic Bastiat, a French Revolution-era journalist and economist, called it “a fatal tendency of mankind” and the desire of people “to live and prosper at the expense of others.”
“This fatal desire,” Bastiat wrote in his classic book, “The Law,” “has its origins in the very nature of man — in that primitive, universal and insuppressible instinct that impels him to satisfy his desires with the least possible pain.”
This “fatal tendency” manifested itself at least three times in the past two weeks here in Sarasota:
1) A few residents and property owners near the La Palme Royale bed and breakfast, also known as the historic Perry-Burns residence on South Palm Avenue, have blocked the sale and demolition of the home — at least for now. They argue the home should be preserved for historic nature and should not be allowed to become a site for an 18-story condominium.
Nevermind the owners — the owners — of the property and home haven’t been able to make the B&B profitable. The building is aging, damaged and not up to current codes. They want to sell.
But in typical fashion, as Bastiat noted in the 1840s, the preservationists and opponents to development want the city — that would be taxpayers — to pay to preserve the home.
And here is one of the kickers to this story: After the city Historic Preservation Board sent the residents’ appeal to the City Commission, the city obliged the residents and waived the nearly $1,600 fee normally required in such cases. Another charge taxpayers eat.
2) A few miles north, in the 1,200-home Indian Beach/Sapphire Shores neighborhood, residents lost in their five-year hopes and quest of having Sarasota County purchase an 8.4-acre site on Bay Shore Road for a park.
They came close. The county offered to pay $3.3 million, but the seller (Bank of Commerce) ultimately accepted $4.1 million, the appraised value of the land.
3) The third example is much like the first — a case of sentimental historic preservation: The Bobby Jones Golf Club.
A few segments of sentimentalists, golf enthusiasts and civic-minded Sarasotans are hoping to persuade the City Commission to invest millions of dollars in a master plan that will reinvigorate this legendary public golf course.
The original 18 holes were dedicated in in 1927 and named after Robert Tyre Jones, the only man in golf history to win the four Grand Slams of golf in the same year.
But 84 years later, the course is showing the age of an 84-year-old. It needs a major makeover. In the past two fiscal years, the course’s decline in rounds played led to operating losses of $125,000 in fiscal 2012 and $315,000 in fiscal 2013.
Supporters of the course persuaded hometown golf hero, professional Paul Azinger, a graduate of Sarasota High School, to plead the case for reinvestment before the City Commission.
Argus Foundation President Kerry Kirschner recently made his appeal to the commission as well, noting that investing in Bobby Jones “can put the city of Sarasota on the golfing world map, along with San Diego (Torrey Pines), Bethpage, N.Y., and to become an American complement to our Sister City of Dunfermline and its course in St. Andrews — all publicly owned golf courses. There are few opportunities in a commission’s life when it can actually do something that establishes a legacy for a community. I seriously believe that this is one of those opportunities.
“We all recognize the financial struggles that the city faces, but we cannot move forward unless we reinvest in what can bring future revenue and investment to our bright spot by the bay. If we get the master plan done, we can then work together to get the funding in order to accomplish the task,” Kirschner wrote.
Each of these instances has its civic appeal — for the alleged good of the collective community. But they also mirror Bastiat’s description of the “fatal tendency of mankind” — “to live and prosper at the expense of others.”
Each of the groups arguing for public money wants taxpayers to fulfill its wishes, to pay for — dare we say — the group’s selfish special interests.
Each case reminds us of the late economist Milton Friedman. Discussing the propriety of companies receiving government subsidies, Friedman put the matter in a personal context.
At the time, he lived in a high-rise condo in San Francisco with a marvelous view of San Francisco Bay. Two years prior, he recalled, a development group proposed constructing a high-rise across the street from his condo building, eventually blocking his and his neighbors’ view of the bay.
Rather than go to City Hall to protest and whine and beg for the city to save their view, Friedman and his neighbors outbid the developer for the vacant property across the street. They paid their own money to preserve their self interest. Why should San Francisco taxpayers in general pay for Friedman and his neighbors’ enjoyment? Why, Friedman asked rhetorically, should a widow on a fixed income be required to pay taxes to support Friedman’s enjoyment?
So it goes: If you want your view, pay for it yourself. If you want to preserve the historic Perry-Burns home, buy it yourself. If you want a park, pay for it with your own money.
If golfers and sentimentalists want to preserve and redevelop Bobby Jones Golf Club, they should band together financially or find the private investors and operators willing to take on the risk.
+ Stand your ground, Manatee
Ever since the Manatee County School Board voted 3-2 to install armed guards at 32 of the county’s elementary schools, predictably, there has been a chorus of critics quick to question and chastise the board and district administration.
“They moved too quickly.” “They didn’t get enough public input.” “They should have checked the state laws more thoroughly beforehand.” Wah, wah, wah.
We’ll continue to applaud the school board and administration for taking the right and bold action. Typical governments are too slow to act and afraid to act for fear of criticism.
But without leaders willing to be pioneers, take risks and be decisive, we all would be worse off — maybe even dead.
KRAUTHAMMER: ‘ONE OF THESE MISERABLE, EXECRABLE HUMAN BEINGS’ WILL WIN
As you groan at the nauseating sight and sound of the next negative campaign ad, you might think of the way syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer described this process two decades ago. A few excerpts:
“Delta Airlines, you might have noticed does not run negative TV ads about USAir. It does not show pictures of the crash of USAir Flight 427, with a voice-over saying: ‘USAir, airline of death. Going to Pittsburgh? Fly Delta instead.’ …
“Yet every two years the American politics industry fills the airwaves with the most virulent, scurrilous, wall-to-wall character assassination of nearly every political practitioner in the country — and then declares itself puzzled that America has lost trust in its politicians …
“Gridlock? People so thoroughly disgusted with their politicians want gridlock. they approve of a system that promises to stop them before they legislate again. It is not the system they dislike. It is the players they cannot abide.
“Why? No need for exotic theories. the simplest explanation is always the best. Politics is the only American industry whose participants devote their advertising budgets to the regular, public, savage undermining of one another. It is the only American industry whose participants devote prodigious sums to destroying whatever shred of allegiance any of them might once have won with their customers …
“Turn on the tube and watch what one candidate — any candidate — has to say about the other. Then remember that no matter who wins, one of these miserable, execrable human beings will end up representing you in Congress …”