If at first you don't secede, try, try again 

Fair Trade

It's a situation played out daily in driveways and parks. A child shows his friends his brand new toy — in this case a ball. They decide to play a game, but eventually things take a turn for the worse for the owner of the ball. He's losing, and so he declares, "This isn't fair," followed shortly by "I'm going to take my ball now and go home."

It seems this same childlike behavior will play out on Daniel Island as the Daniel Island Neighborhood Association and Daniel Island Property Owners' Association hold a meeting, seemingly to announce a plan to secede from Berkeley County and join Charleston County. In this case, the ball is, according to one Berkeley County Councilmember, the 20 percent of Berkeley County's tax revenue generated by the residents of Daniel Island, who make up an astonishingly small four percent of the county's population. Of course, this is because Daniel Island is one of the wealthier — and more population dense — areas in Berkeley County.

Daniel Island is blessed in that its community is centrally planned —what one would call "communism" if a government organization were doing the planning instead of a private company — and yet it also seems cursed because the planners did not seem to take into account that the community's schools would be among Berkeley County's best and therefore highly desirable for the other 96 percent of the county's population who do not live inside the boundaries of Charleston's idyllic island town.

At the heart of the current dispute fomenting among the residents is the notion that the county school board deceived the island's residents into voting for a bond referendum to fund a new, larger K-8 school for the island by leading them to believe it would within the community. This is a legitimate concern, especially for residents who have gotten used to having a school so close to their homes. And certainly, it must be difficult for them to consider giving that up, which is why some, at least, are calling for secession.

This is not the first time that Daniel Islanders have threatened to take their ball and go home. They previously threatened to secede from Berkeley County in 1999 and then again in 2006, making this the third such threat in 14 years, an impressive feat.

The concerns of residents over the fairness of their tax burden may seem legitimate, but fairness is a tricky concept. What is fair to some is always inherently unfair to others. The literary theorist and intellectual Stanley Fish in his 1994 collection There's No Such Thing As Free Speech (And It's a Good Thing, Too) relates a scene from the film How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in which the film's protagonist and a co-worker (the owner's nephew) are told that the coming promotion of one of them will be based on merit alone. The nephew replies, "That's not fair." Fish notes that while this scene is played for laughs, it is not actually hard to see how the nephew's protestation carries at least some degree of truth to it. His assumption about how the world works has been upended, and that, to him, is not fair, even if basing promotions on merit alone would seem to be fair to an outside observer.

The same can be said for the people living on Daniel Island who claim to bear a disproportionate tax burden in Berkeley County. Certainly that does not seem fair, but does this mean that they should hold a disproportionate sway over the decisions of county government? No, because that is not the way that government works. If it was, perhaps we would hold local, state, and national polls on how tax money is spent. Once and for all, we could deal with the pesky problems of war, poverty, drugs, education, healthcare, and, yes, even the notion of a prisoner's sex change operation by simply voting on them as ballot initiatives. It sounds wonderful, but it would be a lot of actual work for citizens who are already overly busy with work and family. And in the case of South Carolina, it would be disastrous. For every dollar we send to the federal government, we get $1.92 back.

When it comes down to it, taxation and government spending do not and cannot work on the simple premise of a 1:1 return on investment. Some people are going to pay more and get less, some are going to pay less and get more, and that is just a simple fact of life, even if it is one that is seemingly completely unfathomable to the people of Daniel Island.


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