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Hooray for Lithia Springs!
By Scott Carpenter
Citizens of British Columbia who are fed up with an intrusive and bossy government on both the federal and local level may find some satisfaction in a story that comes to us by way of a small town in Georgia, USA called Lithia Springs.
It seems that residents of that community who were tired of bureaucratic inefficiency, waste, regulation and general corruption decided to do something that's never been tried before: they got rid of their own government -- completely. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "The referendum that ended the town was part of the settlement in a lawsuit brought by city residents charging the city should be dissolved because it didn't deliver enough services to justify its existence under state law" and surprisingly, as columnist Rob Moody of Atlanta writes: "although anarchy now reigns in Lithia Springs, chaos does not". Business has gone on as usual for local citizens without the town government and, much to the chagrin of those who extol the virtues of the megastate, the sky did not fall in Lithia Springs.
The experience of Lithia Springs brings into debate some interesting questions -- primarily that of exactly what purpose it is government should serve. The English tradition of government and law as adopted by our Southern neighbors (and forgotten by our British cousins and our own politicians) is that government (and law) exists simply to protect the rights of the citizens that comprise a particular society and that government is the servant -- not the master -- of those people in any given political region. In short: the government that governs least governs best.
Not many would find fault with this viewpoint as it is based not simply on tradition but experience as well -- a society flourishes when its citizens are free to interact socially and commercially without interference from the state. A society whose citizens are badgered, regulated, harassed and taxed half to death soon finds itself unable to pay for the most basic of services. Capital [where taxes are drawn from] does not remain where the cost of doing business skyrockets because of political and legal barriers.
The difference in the economies of British Columbia and Alberta over the past 10 years demonstrate quite adequately how the free market operates and what happens when it is hindered by greedy or even 'well meaning' bureaucrats and politicians. As Alberta's tax base shrunk and the red tape was cleared for business the province's economy boomed. As a result capital previously located in British Columbia's red tape laden and highly taxed economy simply packed up and moved east. Perhaps this is why the NDP found themselves with only two seats in a house of seventy-nine at the end of the last election in British Columbia.
And as residents of Lithia Springs recently discovered the same principle applies as much to local government as it does to provincial, state or federal. And from their experience we too should learn. There are other [and better] ways to do things than to allow local bureaucrats to run amuck, shutting down businesses and restricting the use of private property simply so that in exchange we may benefit from the few basic services the city provides. Indeed, whenever we pass a new law or regulation that makes it more costly for businesses or private individuals to expand their capital and wealth everyone in the community suffers. Perhaps one of the best examples of late comes from the small northern BC community in which I live.
Here in the north soaring gas prices have made simply heating one's home and business a major financial burden. But human beings, being the creative and intelligent creatures they are, do find ways around such problems. Many of us (myself included) have installed woodstoves in our homes and simply use our gas and electric heat as back up. This is inefficient but does cut gas costs significantly enough to warrant a few weekends a summer slaving away with a chainsaw in the bush.
Unfortunately (or fortunately) time is money and not everyone has the time to cut and split that much wood. So -- enter the outdoor wood/coal burning hot water heating furnace. The concept is simple -- an outdoor large wood/coal stove about the size of a small garden shed that you stoke just once a day. It heats your water and hooks directly into the preexisting forced air furnace in your home. It takes four foot long chunks of wood and will even burn them when they are green. It's also CSA approved and to date -- perhaps because they are separate from the actual dwelling -- I've not heard of a single case of one causing harm nor death to a single human being due to burning a house to the ground.
Yet, in their infinite wisdom, our city council has voted to ban the ownership and use of these little miracles within city limits.
The report that sparked this decision was written by our local by-law enforcement officer and reads like something out of a piece of fiction. Although in the beginning of the report our officer is concerned about the environmental impact these stoves will have in our community due to wide spread use (actually these units are probably cleaner burning than our legally owned woodstoves) he later states that one of the reasons he believes they may need to be prohibited is because they are so expensive that only "the wealthy" may be able to afford them. The two statements are an absurd contradiction. But what's more ridiculous is that our bylaw officer recommends to the city that these items be banned simply because he and his assistants don't know enough about them to inspect them properly and -- get this -- children may get into them or vandalize them and therefor they constitute a potential fire hazard.
Good grief. Where do these guys come from anyway???
The effect this irrational "save the children/ugh -- fire bad!" line of reasoning has on the local economy is staggering. Although his assessment on cost and ownership is probably pretty close to the mark (and not sufficient reason in whole or in part to restrict ownership anyway) he has discounted the possibility that businesses in Dawson Creek may find them useful. These furnaces are very expensive; the purchase and installation of them could run close to ten thousand dollars. In short: you won't see one in my neighborhood any time soon. But small business is a different matter altogether. Some businesses pay upwards of eight or ten thousand dollars a year just to heat their facilities. One of those furnaces would pay for itself in a single subarctic winter. The money that our business would save on gas costs alone could have gone into a pension plan, updates to the store or a raise for the staff. Consequently, the purchase of just a few of those units by local businesses would have increased the capital of the new startup furnace company and may have created more Canadian jobs as a result. But because of one man's ignorance and a city council's stupidity our business will not benefit and those new jobs have no chance at becoming a reality.
Ultimately, this is far too much power for a small group of busy bodies to have solely in their own hands. If the citizens of Dawson Creek, BC were smart they'd be closely studying the events in Lithia Springs, Georgia and making plans to dissolve their own government so that finally they too could get on with business.
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