Tom Purcell, 1/15/2007 [Archive]

On Meter Maids and Democrats

On Meter Maids and Democrats

By Tom Purcell

There are only two words you need to know to understand the meaning of government: meter maid.

Though maybe I'm still 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 there in a coffee shop.

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 drop and the meter "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 any more.

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 -- profit for the government. With every stroke of the pen, my meter maid is essentially printing money -- and, possibly, generating funds towards the annual meter maid ball (a cause, my dear meter maid, to which I contribute generously every year).

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-and-ran my car.

I just don't trust government.

Which brings us to the Democrats. Democrats love government. They think the good intentions of government can solve all the woes of the world. And now that they're running Congress, they'll surely try to do just that.

They'll promise to "fix" our health care troubles by having the government take them 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 ultimately damage the program.

They'll "fix" the gap between rich and poor by raising taxes on the rich, which will further 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 were hired 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 found, cuffed and standing before the magistrate inside of 48 hours.

Tom Purcell is a humor columnist nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons. For comments to Tom, please email him at

RESTRICTIONS: 'Tom Purcell's column may not be reprinted in general circulation print media in Pennsylvania's Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, and Westmoreland Counties. It may appear only in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and its sister publications."

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