Here's a good rule of thumb for any government project, from NRO's Kevin Williamson. If someone absolutely refused to contribute to the project, would you be willing to lock him in a cage until he did so??
....The resort to violence is what makes the question of what kind of things it is legitimate for states to do an important moral concern. It seems to me perfectly reasonable to shove a gun in somebody’s face to stop him murdering, raping, or robbing. It seems to me entirely unreasonable to shove a gun in somebody’s face to extort from him money to fund a project to get monkeys high on cocaine. (Or to fund a project about African Genital Washing - TWS) Those seem to me fairly reasonable distinctions. It is illegitimate for government to use force or the threat of force for projects that are not inherently public in character.
The question of how much illegitimacy a state may perpetrate before becoming generally illegitimate itself is of real interest and has been, of late, the subject of some spirited discussion between some of my colleagues here and me. (You probably can guess on which side of the fault line I stand.)
But I would like to make it clear that I am not indulging in a figure of speech: I think it’s a pretty useful heuristic: If you’re not willing to have somebody hauled off at gunpoint over the project, then it’s probably not a legitimate concern of the state.
This is the sort of talk that gives (his Statist opponents) the howling fantods, inasmuch as they seem to operate under a kind of distributed version of the divine right of kings — always asking whether the rulers rule wisely, seldom asking whether they have the right to rule at all, and never asking whether and how much we actually need them.
So....would you be willing to throw someone in jail if he refused to help pay for The Lawrence Welk Museum? If not, then we probably don't need the government involved in the project.
Say your neighbor wants no part of paying for the Charles B. Rangel Center For Public Service, one of the most gloriously mis-named abortions since the Employee Free Choice Act.
If your neighbor refused to pay one dime toward this memorial to a jackal, would you be willing to lock your neighbor in a cage until he changed his mind? If not, then perhaps the students of Charlie should pay for Charlie's school.
From now on, this concept will be called the "Neighbor In A Cage" test of government spending.
Ok, let's keep going. If Timmy The Tax Dodger Geithner wanted to back his getaway car up to The Treasury one more time for one more stimulus package, and the little old lady down the street thought it was a total ripoff, would you be willing to throw her in jail for not paying the taxes to support it? I think not.
Out of fairness, let's try this one. New England is invaded by Canada. The Canadians are headed southward. If your neighbor refuses to contribute to the defense of the U.S. in this situation, would you be willing to throw him in jail for not paying his taxes? I probably would. You might. Therefore, there's a possibility that defending the U.S. against a Canook invasion is a legit function of government.
The picture of the kitten being taxed came from here.