Government agency spends tax dollars on 'artist in residence'? We should pay attention to New Zealand!
TRACKSIDE © by John D’Aloia Jr.
July 27, 2004
Where, oh where, do my tax dollars go. Could not help it. Had to use this old favorite lead in when I discovered that The National Aeronautics and Space Administration spends between $25,000 and $100,000 each year on artists - this year NASA offered performance artist Laurie Anderson a $20,000 commission to be the agency’s "artist in residence." The agency’s rationale? Bertram Ulrich, NASA’s art program curator, was quoted as saying "Art is what’s left behind of history. It’s a way to document something for future generations." Baloney - what it is is evidence that the agency has no sense of its purpose or its fiduciary duty to taxpayers. It is evidence that management has lost control of its empire - the inmates are running the asylum.
NASA - and all levels of government, from cities, to state, to the feds, should pay strict heed to the massive reductions in the size and scope of New Zealand’s government accomplished by a reform government that was elected in 1984. It really can be done - and in so doing, the Four Horsemen are not loosed on the land as you would think listening to the politicians who curry votes by convincing people they cannot exist without government’s helping handouts. What was done was described by Maurice P. McTigue in an article entitled "Rolling Back Government: Lessons from New Zealand" printed in the April 2004 edition of Hillsdale College’s Imprimis. The administration of which McTigue was a member identified three causes of the sinking New Zealand economy - "too much spending, too much taxing, and too much government."
The administration thereupon established a governance philosophy that questioned every aspect of government and took action based on the answers received. Here is how McTigue described the thought process: "As we started to work through this process, we also asked some fundamental questions of the agencies. The first question was, ‘What are you doing?’ The second question was, ‘What should you be doing?’ Based on the answers, we then said, ‘Eliminate what you shouldn’t be doing’ – that is, if you are doing something that clearly is not a responsibility of the government, stop doing it. Then we asked the final question: ‘Who should be paying – the taxpayer, the user, the consumer, or the industry?’ We asked this because, in many instances, the taxpayers were subsidizing things that did not benefit them. And if you take the cost of services away from actual consumers and users, you promote overuse and devalue whatever it is that you’re doing."
What were the results? The Department of Transportation started with 5,600 employees. When all the questions had been answered and action taken, the department was trimmed down to 53 employees. The Forest Service started with 17,000 employees - it ended up with 17. McTigue was the Minister of Works, having 28,000 employees, but ended up being the only employee in the department. Were all these employees now in food lines and living under bridges? Of course not. The private sector picked up the tasks being done by them and gave them employment.
The New Zealand government decided that many tasks it was doing "simply didn’t belong in the government." It proceeded to sell off irrigation schemes, computing services, government printing offices, banks, bus services, agricultural advisory services, and a large passel of other functions. The usual result was that productivity went up, costs went down, and the economy gained yet society was not torn asunder. The net result was the sell-off of about 35 agencies. What had cost taxpayers $1 billion dollars per year now produced about $1 billion dollars per year in taxes and revenue.
The entire program resulted in a reduction in the size of the government of 66 percent. The government’s share of Gross Domestic Product dropped from 44 to 27 percent and tax surpluses were generated. The surplus tax dollars were used to pay off debt, cut the income tax in half, and eliminate incidental taxes. As a result of the policies put in motion, tax revenues increased 20 percent. Ronald Reagan was right on. (What New Zealand did with corporate welfare, a failing education system, drivers licenses, and deer is another part of the story.)
Inside the beltway, are you listening? Are you listening in Topeka? In city hall? If New Zealand can turn a ravenous Leviathan into a docile servant, certainly a country founded on the principles of limited government and freedom can do it. We need not The Clerks or The Guardians.
Excerpts reprinted by permission from Imprimis, the national speech
digest of Hillsdale College, www.hillsdale.edu. Subscriptions are
free upon request.
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]