Thirty-five years ago, the people of Willimantic, Connecticut, confirmed my belief in the value of citizen initiative rights. And they did it without using the initiative!
In 1974, Willimantic citizens rejected the city budget three times in a row, finally compelling a 9 percent tax cut. Willimantic had been hard hit by a recession. Property taxes were high, per capita income low. The town’s biggest employer, the American Thread Company, had just laid off a lot of people. (A decade later, the company would leave the area.) The citizenry was in a rebellious mood. They demanded budget and tax cuts.
They didn’t do it via citizen initiative. Willimantic was following an old town meeting model of governance, under which any citizen who shows up can vote on the city budget. And they did.
Most places aren’t run on this model. But it has distinct similarities to citizen initiatives, whereby voters can directly curb taxes and spending. Which is why politicians attack initiative rights where citizens have them, and try to stop citizens from gaining initiative rights where they don’t yet have them.
You and me, working together, we have to do something about this. We must protect and use a process whereby the people can make laws the politicians must obey.
Fittingly, I first read about Willimantic in economist Murray Rothbard’s introduction to Étienne de La Boétie’s classic essay on “The Politics of Obedience,” usually translated as The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.