Greater Buffalo Needs an Independent Think Tank
By James Ostrowski
December 4, 2004
The Greater Buffalo area has been in a free-fall since about 1960. Its political, intellectual and business leadership has proven for decades to be incapable of diagnosing the causes of our problems or doing anything constructive about them. Rather, for the most part, they have been part of the problem, putting their own interests ahead of reform and change, and presenting us with misguided reform measures that do not address the root causes of our problems.
Unless we wish to see Buffalo continue to drift towards economic oblivion, drastic changes need to be made, now. Those changes need to be formulated and presented by a new research organization or think tank that is completely independent of the present power structure. Only then will true solutions become apparent to the public.
There will be surely be support for a small, efficient organization that analyzes our current problems and presents common sense solutions in clear and plain language.
This think tank would not force people to wear philosophical or ideological straitjackets, but would be strongly founded in Jeffersonian ideals:
Individuals should have the maximum possible personal and economic freedom.
The current political structure needs to be reversed. Presently, we concentrate the most political power in Washington, the next most in Albany, then the Rath Building, and the least amount in our cities, towns and villages. Contrary to the originalâ€”and profoundly wiseâ€”vision of the framers and foundersâ€”we have removed political power as far away from the people as possible. This is the cause of many of our problems.
We need to replace that failed thinking with its oppositeâ€” concentrate political power first in the individual, then in the local organic community or neighborhood (South Buffalo, East Aurora, West Seneca), and in larger and more distant units only when it is absolutely clear that this is necessary.
The guiding principle is the maximum possible decentralization consistent with civilized life.
Experience shows that when we concentrate power in the hands of strangers in distant capitals, they make strange and destructive decisions that harm us but help themselves. This madness must end. Why, for example, should HUD bureaucrats in Washington dictate housing policy in the City of Buffalo? Why should education bureaucrats in Albany dictate how schools are run in Cheektowaga, a town they have never visited except for a stopover at the airport?
Economic planning is best accomplished by private actors engaging in mutually beneficial transactions in a free market. Modes of planning based on private property rights and freedom of contract are to be preferred over coercive and bureaucratic schemes.
Methods of funding the government other than by taxation should be explored and encouraged. These include: user fees, fines, filing fees, bequests and endowments, voluntary check-offs, advertising, and lotteries. Experience shows that the power to tax allows politicians to misspend funds in ways not approved of by the taxpayers they allegedly represent.
Since there is no known means of ensuring that taxes are spent wisely, alternatives to taxation must be explored. It is true that only taxes can fund todayâ€™s gargantuan budgets. However, if the size and scope of government are reduced in accordance with the principles outlined in this essay, and a predictable economic boom follows, funding government without taxes becomes more plausible.
Letâ€™s bring government down to the community level where it can be watched and controlled. And let communities decide if they wish to join forces with other communities or secede from them. Secession is the ultimate check on big government that allows exploited communities to escape from larger governmental units that have been hijacked by corrupt political machines.
A New Model of Politics
This new model of politics is illustrated in the figures below. Figure No. 1 is the top-down, top-heavy model of highly centralized big government we suffer under today. Figure No. 2 reverses the dynamics and shows a bottom-up, bottom-heavy model for the future.
Figure No. 1 Todayâ€™s Top-Down, Top-Heavy Politics
A diagram is worth a thousand words. Figure No. 1 illustrates why so many people today feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. They are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. The upside down triangle illustrates why so many people today feel they are not in control of their lives. They feel that way because itâ€™s true: they are not in control of their lives; the government is.
Figure No. 2 Tomorrow’s Bottom-Up, Bottom-Heavy Politics
This new model of politics is neither left nor right, neither liberal nor conservative, neither Democratic nor Republican. It transcends such failed dichotomies by providing all personsâ€”rich or poorâ€”with the maximum possible opportunity to improve themselves and their communities.
A good term for this approach is libertarian populism. It is based on individual freedom but also has a strong egalitarian element. The sad truth is that a top-heavy political regime tends to favor the well-educated and well-connected elites who control it. It disadvantages the masses of poor and working class people who lack the skill or the inclination to manipulate the system.
How about Free Buffalo? Itâ€™s both a noun and a verb. Itâ€™s short and sweet. And it describes the goal of the organization.
Letâ€™s free Buffaloâ”€from big government, political machines and special interests.
Iâ€™d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, criticisms, and fundraising ideas.
[Note: Free Buffalo was later incorporated as Free New York, Inc. A Niagara County Chapter, Free Niagara, was also formed.]