According to Ham, Ms. Gardner purchased a 1930s bungalow more than 20 years ago, and the artist apparently can’t understand why her tax bill is so high. In this regard, Ms. Gardner resembles the Nuns on the Bus and other religious shareholder activists who submit proxy shareholder resolutions on a plethora of feel-good (but, in reality, harmful) agenda items through investment groups As You Sow and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.
Similarly, voters in Acton’s Grand Rapids, Mich., front yard have approved a $10 million income tax increase, seemingly unaware of how this additional burden will impact the city and its residents negatively. Oh wait, did I forget to mention the $30 million parks millage approved by voters last year? While we’re at it, let’s toss in the 2011 mass transit millage approval, which will top out at $15.6 million annually. One day, however, Grand Rapids taxpayers may wake up like some allegorical David Byrne character, tapping their arm and asking, “Well, how did I get here?” as they ponder how much less money they take home, save or have available for philanthropic activities.
Whereas Ms. Gardner has harmed only her obtuse self and fellow property owners in the Bouldin neighborhood of Austin and Grand Rapids voters eventually may lament their tax-it-if-it-moves strategy, the religious investors listed above submit resolutions on carbon emissions, hydraulic fracturing (fracking), political spending and a host of other items that – if passed – would drive up costs for those least able to afford them, destroy jobs and harm hundreds of local economies.
All this brings to mind the 1902 W. W. Jacob’s short story, “The Monkey’s Paw.” I’ll spare readers a recap, but will sum it up as a nifty allegory on what happens when three wishes are granted to the protagonists after receiving the titular talisman. In short: nothing good, because everything positive arising from the first two wishes comes at a horrible cost. The only remedy for these costs is to squander the third wish to undo the ill-advised second.
Jacob’s characters– much like Grand Rapids’ taxpayers and Austin’s Gardner – ultimately are forced to face the consequences of their well-intentioned follies. The shareholder activists’ good intentions, on the other hand, pave an economic expressway off-ramp to a hell where those fortunate enough to find jobs will find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.