Greed is good?

Kenneth Piper, August 19, 2014

Procter Thomson was an Economics Professor at Claremont Men’s College. He had a dry humor, and I liked him a lot. But I was not an Econ major, and it was not the economic theory he taught us that stayed with me; it was “Thomson’s Laws,” a group of universal truths that he had come up with over the years. Some of them seem trite, some profound. But he had a reason for them all. In some cases, I even remember the explanation.

I. Greed is good. – Procter Thomson

Now I must admit that this is one that I never really embraced. I realize that he was talking about economics, but I am not an economist and it just gets in the way with my ethical beliefs.

Everybody wants something for nothing. The rich liberal establishment wants to institutionalize charity. Tax everyone to give to the poor, and they can feel justified in their wealth. Conservatives say that individuals and corporations should give charitably with compassion for those with less – but they may not do as they say. Libertarians might say, “Don’t tax me and don’t make me give to someone else either.” The poor, and many others, just want something; they don’t care from where.

College students and their parents want to tax others so that their tuition can be subsidized. Spread that burden around to include those who do not benefit from it. I know. I turned down a full Navy scholarship, which came with a four-year commitment after graduation, in favor of a state scholarship that only paid tuition. That seemed like free money. Of course, that was during the Vietnam War. I have sometimes wondered whether that was the right thing to do – not because I felt guilty about accepting the free money, but because I could have seen the world (forty years later, I have still not seen much of it).

But I have come to realize that getting something for nothing is not very satisfying. I do good work, but have often felt that what I worked on during my government career is of little value. Nobody really cares about most of it, at least outside of the government agency I worked at. I made a decent salary, so sometimes it felt like I was getting something for nothing.

Now is the time for community governance

Kenneth Piper, March 12, 2014

We in the Santa Susana Knolls, and, indeed, all the unincorporated communities in Ventura County, need to take on the responsibility of determining our future.  We need to have an active say in what goes on within our communities, just as the incorporated cities do.

In November, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to defeat the proposed development of the “Ranch” property in the Santa Susana Knolls.  The community residents breathed a collective sigh of relief and celebrated.  The celebration is tempered, however, by the comments of Supervisor Foy before his vote for the development.  He said we got what we wanted now, but that down the road we might get a development of 100 or 200 units. 

Some of the residents took it as a threat.  But he was just giving us a dose of reality.  The reality is that all it takes is a change of one supervisor and a resubmission of a development proposal.  It does mean restarting the long process.  But we can never feel safe as long as the decisions that affect our lives are made by 5 people who have the closest thing to regal powers that exists at any level of government in the United States.

At the July 2004 Board of Supervisors’ meeting regarding development in the Santa Susana Knolls, I described how the unincorporated community of Caspar in coastal northern California is working proactively with Mendocino county in order to determine their own future.  In Caspar, they are not saying no to all development.  They realize that property owners have a right to make a fair profit from their property.  But they are making sure that the whole community is involved from the start so that everyone can live with the result.  That way everyone comes out a winner.  It is a model for community involvement that has caught the attention of state lawmakers in Sacramento, and they like what they see.

In the case of Caspar, the county government has been supportive of this approach.  It makes their job easier.  They see their job as supporting the needs of all their constituents, not just those who bankroll their re-elections.  It also makes the developers’ jobs easier, because they can move ahead more quickly, and without the expense and delay of lawsuits.

In 2004, I said we needed a similar say in our future.  The Supervisors were silent on the issue.  When Supervisor Foy first came to our community after being elected in 2006, I asked him what he thought about such a plan.  He said we did not need it.

In 1991 the landowner and a previous developer had submitted a plan for development of about 30 home sites on the ranch property.  The plan had the support of the community.  Had they gone ahead with the development then, it would have gone through, and the landowner would have made his profit.  Instead, beginning about 1997, we have had 16 years of fighting much more intrusive proposals that negatively impact the entire community.  Our own supervisor considers developers’ desires as more important than the needs of the community.  And, our future is still in doubt.

Now is when we need to demand a greater role.  The entire county community needs to wake up and take control of their future.