There are only two words you need to know to understand the meaning of government: meter maid.
Though maybe I'm a little bitter.
I live in a wonderful suburban community, six miles from downtown Pittsburgh. Its main street is lined with pubs and shops and stores. I spend many days writing in a coffee shop there.
But my writing has been difficult of late difficult because of our meter maid.
She's an extraordinary woman, a legend in these parts. No sooner does a meter pin "expire" than she is there. Park beyond the white lines? She'll nail you 15 bucks for that. Dare to park one second beyond the two-hour limit? She'll nail you 15 bucks for that, too.
I am punished repeatedly for these offenses. I thought it was funny at first funny at how prolific our meter maid really is. But after thinking about what it really means, I don't think it's so funny anymore.
My meter maid is a perfect reflection of what is so worrisome about government a perfect example of the unintended consequences and perverse incentives that only government can create.
A town like mine should have parking meters and parking rules. Lawbreakers who abuse them should be punished. It's necessary to preserve order to keep patrons moving in and out, so that shop owners and the town may flourish.
But it is my meter maid who has become the aggressor. She's a master of her art. Her ticket pad is her blank canvas she can saunter past 10 cars in 10 seconds and whip out 10 tickets without breaking stride.
It matters not if you're old and feeble and your doctor's appointment ran a few minutes over. Who cares if you're a shop employee unable to find a long-term parking spot. It will do you no good to park outside of the painted lines so the car behind you has room to get out.
You will be punished.
You will be punished because there's profit in it for the government. With every stroke of the pen, my meter maid is printing money for her employer and, possibly, generating funds toward the annual meter maid ball (a cause, by the way, to which I contribute generously).
It's certainly not the meter maid's fault that she responds to such incentives misdirected incentives that ultimately anger patrons and hurt the businesses and town the regulations were designed to benefit. The government is in the business of misdirected incentives.
Take poverty. Years ago, LBJ unleashed a flurry of government programs to eliminate it. We've spent well over a trillion dollars since and all our good intentions got us is more poverty.
It's not that I dislike government. I liked the federal loans that got me through Penn State. I like the world's finest highway system that allows me to travel freely state to state. I loved the way local police nabbed the fellow who hit my car and ran.
I just don't trust government.
Which brings us to the Democrats. Democrats love government. They think government and good intentions can solve all the woes of the world. And now that they're running Congress, they're going to try to do just that.
They'll promise to "fix" our health care troubles by having the government take over, which will increase our troubles and limit our health care.
They'll "fix" Social Security by raising taxes and growing the program, only to hurt the economy and damage the program.
They'll "fix" the gap between rich and poor by raising taxes on the rich, which will slow the economy and make all of us poorer especially the poor.
The Democrats will unwittingly unleash a legion of federal meter maids who will regulate, monitor and punish and unwittingly accomplish the opposite of whatever they set out to accomplish.
I hope they're less proficient than my meter maid. It's like she drops out of the sky every time a meter expires. If only Osama bin Laden would park in my town. He'd be cuffed and standing before my magistrate inside of 48 hours.