Enough serious business. Time for some frivolous pseudo-philosophy.
Full disclosure: Parks & Recreation’s Ron Swanson is my hero. I may not vote as he does, but I recognize good life advice when I see it: “Poise: sting like a bee. Do not float like a butterfly. That’s ridiculous.” However, his views on public policy, as opposed to his personal code of honor are a bit more problematic:
I’ve been quite open about this around the office: I don’t want this parks department to build any parks, because I don’t believe in government. I think that all government is a waste of taxpayer money. My dream is to have the park system privatized and run entirely for profit by corporations, like Chuck E. Cheese. They have an impeccable business model. I would rather work for Chuck E. Cheese.
The ethical dilemma is posed by the reality that Swanson doesn’t seem to be sending his resume to Chuck E. Cheese and other private employers. He’s the Commissioner of the Parks Department, a job in which he disburses - and is compensated by - the taxed earnings or the taxed land of the hardworking citizens of Pawnee. Moreover, he’s a bureaucrat, not an elected official. This leaves him little room to change policy. He’s a (presumably well-compensated) cog in the park-maintaining, code-enforcing, recycling-collecting, tax-extracting local government machine.
Is this a tenable position? It’s one plenty of real-life libertarians find themselves in, as they work at the DMV, teach in public schools, lecture in state universities, and walk the beat as police officers. Not to mention the libertarians employed in the private sector who, due to modest incomes, are the net beneficiaries of a welfare state they despise. Are they all hypocrites?
I think the answer depends on whether Ron Swanson and analogous libertarians accept the premise of democratic rule and the legitimacy, though not the wisdom, of majorities passing laws that attenuate property rights.
There are many ways of criticizing state policy as sub-optimal while accepting the legitimacy of democratic states. Libertarian economists criticize the deadweight loss of taxation, the inefficiency of labor regulations, and the inefficacy of redistribution. They claim the world would be richer and more just if only elected officials and the voting public listened to them. For his part, Ron Swanson argues for a better way to finance recreation:
Chuck E. Cheese could run the parks. Everything operated by tokens. Drop in a token, go on the swing set. Drop in another token, take a walk. Drop in a token, look at a duck.
The question for Swanson: maybe the way tax-and-spend method of maintaining parks is wrong-headed, but does he believe the current sub-optimal scheme constitutes theft? If he does, that’s a problem. If someone offered you a gift that you knew was ill-gotten, or even offered to fence something that was stolen, would you accept? If imposing taxes on Pawnee residents is a violation of their self-ownership, how could Swanson in good conscience accept the stolen fruit of their labor as part of his public employee benefit package?
I don’t think he could, not without being inconsistent. That’s the price one pays when a strain of political thought is transformed into an overarching moral doctrine. I choose to believe that Swanson thinks the voters who created his job are stupid, economically illiterate, and politically immature, but they aren’t the enablers of theft.
For a look at the actual politics of Parks and Recreation, I recommend Alyssa Rosenberg’s post.
All of that being said, I’m still fairly certain that I’d go along with just about ANY idea that Ron Swanson proposed to me. I mean c’mon….he’s Ron fucking Swanson.