The dogma that lives loudly within us

IN January 1983, the NMI Democratic Party responded to the Republican governor’s State of the Commonwealth Address by declaring, among other things, that “there is a need for imagination, for bold, new approaches to government and development. The ones we know no longer work and will lead us to bankruptcy. We must move away from the MORE GOVERNMENT to the LESS GOVERNMENT philosophy, from GOVERNMENT AS THE EMPLOYER OF FIRST RESORT to the GOVERNMENT AS EMPLOYER OF LAST RESORT thinking.” In short, the NMI Democrats said, “as a people, we should begin to learn to stand on our own two feet, as individuals and as private organizations, and not depend on the government for everything. The government should be there to make rules and be a referee, and arbiter, but we believe that it is the individuals who should be in the game.”

How can anyone argue with such an admirable and fiscally sound sentiment? Thirty-seven years ago, the main “problem” was that the government’s obligations had exceeded its capacity to meet them. Even the Democrats said so!

But what has happened since then? Succeeding administrations and legislatures, goaded by a majority of voters, have saddled the government with more obligations.

Like their predecessors, many of the newly elected lawmakers are promising new programs and/or new services — as if the needed funds are theirs for the taking. As if this time, because the CNMI just had another election, legislation will “work,” and the same government that has staggered or bungled into one crisis after another — the same government that cannot even enforce the littering act, among many other well-meaning laws, will suddenly know how to make things better amid the worst economic crisis in Commonwealth history.

Throughout human history, to quote economist Donald Boudreaux, “so many people — smart and not-so-smart people; well-educated and poorly educated people; rich and poor people; men and women; people of all ethnicities and nationalities,” have embraced the dogmatic belief  in the power of government “to perform miracles — the power of [government] officials to know what mortals cannot know, to achieve what mortals cannot achieve, to transcend the realities of scarcity and human nature in order to create heaven on earth.”

To which some of our progressive friends may reply,

“It’ll be different this time.”

Exactly what the previous progressives have said, and what future ones will say.

No means no

NOT too long ago, the CNMI government was collecting enough revenue to pay several of its many pressing obligations, among them the retirees’ pension benefits. That was when the economy was growing. There was a new (casino) investor, and tourist arrivals were increasing.

Since March, however, the islands’ only industry, tourism, has shut down. So when can the CNMI reopen again for tourists? 

While CNMI officials talk about reviving farming and fishing and workforce training and helping small businesses (which their predecessors had also talked about a lot throughout the Trust Territory and early-Commonwealth eras), how can the CNMI government continue paying the retirees and its other obligations, among them, government payroll and public health/medical referrals?

Let’s rephrase that question. How can the CNMI government obtain the funding it needs without imposing new burdens on businesses and community members?

We, for our part, say no to any new or higher taxes or fees, and no to any new government program or service that the CNMI can’t afford.

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