Are lawmakers ‘eating our seed corn?’


If government officials can revive a moribund economy or provide continuous prosperity, why don’t they?

Such an achievement would surely improve their chances of winning elections, assuming voters attributed prosperity to their actions.

The answer seems to be that government can change conditions and thereby affect the economy for good or ill, but the market decides whether we enjoy prosperity or not.

Their inability to produce prosperity doesn’t keep politicians from promising what they cannot deliver, of course.

During this election year, it would be a pleasant surprise to hear candidates state how they would attempt to “create jobs, jobs, jobs,” or whatever else they promise to do about the economy upon election to office.

Saying that the way to prosperity is to reduce government’s regulatory burden on the private sector makes for a good “sound bite,” but doesn’t indicate how the burden would be reduced.

Consider an example in South Kitsap that illustrates the costs of regulating economic activity.

Manchester is designated by county regulations as an urban growth area, where there is supposed to be more intensive land use in order to avoid “sprawl” into outlying areas.

This is a fine goal, but achieving both the prevention of sprawl and the intensive development of land within Manchester cannot result from a regulatory process that is too costly and filled with delays.

Money that could have been spent on economic development instead is consumed by the effort to get permission to begin a project.

Economic conditions can change by the time a project is finally approved and completed, so that the investment turns out to be a losing proposition in the near term.

A project whose construction could provide jobs for the battered building industry can be prohibited unless significant design changes are made — putting the start of construction somewhere in the future rather than now, when people need the jobs.

Both have occurred in the Manchester area, illustrating that the idea of improving the efficiency and responsiveness of the regulatory process is apparently a worthy goal.

It seems obvious we need some regulation of land use rather than allowing a free-for-all scramble that may benefit some while creating nuisances for others.

How would any candidate, whether seeking re-election or vying for a first seat in government, propose to make the land-use regulations more efficient and responsive to development opportunities?

Unless voters have a good idea of the changes a candidate would try to implement, they can hardly know whether the candidate’s intentions are likely to result in a desirable change.

Similarly, promising to resist higher taxes or even reduce the tax burden is a common campaign statement — and for good reason.

When government’s taxing power is used to take too much from the private sector and spend it in the public sector, the money that is left for investment and growth may be too little.

Back when the majority of Americans earned their living in agriculture, they had a good way to describe the situation when too much is consumed — “eating the seed corn.”

Most everyone understood the bad effect of consuming what is needed to produce enough in the future.

It’s still true today that future production is what provides the necessities of life.

Having an entitlement to a share of that production does little good when too little is produced.

But just how would a candidate avoid diverting too much money into government spending and away from private investment?

The answer probably has to include restraints on both government spending and taxing, and any spending restraints have to make sense just like taxing decisions have to.

Of course, it’s possible to promise that taxes will be changed so that any extra burden is carried only by the rich.

And such a promise may sway the opinions of people who don’t understand that the accumulation of wealth needed for investment and new jobs is the seed corn.

Bob Meadows is a Port Orchard resident.