RALEIGH – Talk about governments not being able to set priorities. Carolina Journal Executive Editor Don Carrington has laid out in great detail the various economic-development schemes underway in the northeastern corner of the state. The story is carefully researched and well worth an investment of your time if you haven’t already read it, but it focuses primarily on the conflicts of interest and murky finances of these questionable projects. There is another question worth considering in greater detail: why in the heck should the taxpayers of North Carolina be compelled to invest in them?
Take the proposed Randy Parton Theater and Carolina Crossroads Music & Entertainment District, to be located on a 750-acre site next to I-95 in Halifax County. Randy, brother of the slightly-more-famous Dolly, is said to be moving his family from Tennessee to NC to headline the facility, which will receive government largesse in the form of $2 million in state grants for water and sewer improvements, $3 million for associated road improvements, and $13 million from local taxpayers to construct the venue. Other state money may flow to the project, as well, albeit indirectly.
To put it bluntly, the citizens of North Carolina did not form a government, draft and approve a constitution, and build a centuries-old tradition of republican governance for the purpose of showcasing country-music talent. If our government is to be in the music business, it is difficult to imagine a business the government could not enter. Remember that government is not a debating society, it is not an investment club, and it is not a membership organization like the Rotary Club or the Knights of Columbus. It is a coercive institution, based on using or threatening to use physical force to compel people to participate in certain, limited public activities.
If you would have moral qualms about waving a cudgel and demanding that your neighbor give you money, you should have similar moral qualms about asking government officials to wave the cudgel instead. The only difference is the number of people wielding clubs or voting for others to wield clubs on their behalf. Thus, the appropriate test is whether you would ever feel comfortable threatening folks with a blunt instrument unless they paid for a part of your ticket to the Randy Parton concert.
In my case, it is likely that I would attend a Randy Parton concert only at the behest of said cudgel. It’s just not my thing. In a free society, we get to have different “things.” Diverse tastes in music, art, culture, and recreation shouldn’t be a problem because individuals can satisfy their tastes through voluntary means, by deciding to patronize or not patronize a particular establishment.
There is no crying market need out there for a government-subsidized venue for country music, anyway. The beautiful city of Asheville, North Carolina is soon to be home to the Carolina Country Theater. Built entirely with private funds, the facility will host not only country-music productions but also a variety of other concerts. “We are going to bring Nashville to Asheville,” said the entrepreneur involved.
Government has a role to play in economic development, but only indirectly. If it performs it appointed tasks properly, its community will become an attractive place to live, work, and invest. It may even become an attractive place to showcase country music – just not on the taxpayers’ dime.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.