What Small Government Looks Like

Via Paul Krugman, small government and Colorado Springs. The city’s voters rejected a tax referendum needed to cover a budget gap caused by the recession. So, essentially, the city is shutting down services.

More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.

The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.

Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that.

Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero.

City recreation centers, indoor and outdoor pools, and a handful of museums will close for good March 31 unless they find private funding to stay open. Buses no longer run on evenings and weekends. The city won’t pay for any street paving, relying instead on a regional authority that can meet only about 10 percent of the need.

The article also says residents distrust the city government and don’t believe their tax dollars are being spent wisely. But this level of cuts in services is not caused by overpaying a few people or leaving the lights in the library turned on too long.

Thomas Levenson (via Monica Potts) writes,

This is, among other things, what folks like Megan McArdle never seem to get — not merely that governments do things that (a) private entities won’t and or can’t and (b) that are necessary if you are, say, going to have thousands or millions of folks living in close proximity to each other, and (c) those things that need to be paid for — by the people in common, that is to say, by government — include a bunch of stuff essential for a sound economy and any chance of achieving what is commonly thought of as the American way of life.

These cuts probably will hurt business, including tourism. The right-wing model that sees the public and private sector perpetually at odds with each other is a denial of the basic fact that those miraculous free markets wouldn’t exist without governments that provide stuff like roads, bridges, street lights, law enforcement, a stable banking system, garbage pickup, etc., and these are things that have to be paid for somehow. And unless we want to go to a system in which all roads are toll roads, houses burn until the firefighters are paid (it’s been done), and street lights are all coin operated, this means government does these things through tax money.

Levenson is right — “The core Republican idea is destroying the American way of life.”

25 thoughts on “What Small Government Looks Like

  1. Excellent post. I’m always amazed by libertarians, they always seem to overlook so much of what the government really does. Where I live, the first thing to get cut is repairing potholes, so people are aware. Next is schools, libraries, parks. I don’t think CO Springs is going to enjoy the way their town is going, hopefully they will look into this matter further. Maybe Focus on the Family will step up and pay (or pray) for some streetlights.

  2. These are things that San Diego has already done, trying to close a 25% shortfall in its budget; trash cans and fireplaces removed from the beaches, mounted police disbanded and the horses being acutioned off, 25% of our fire trucks are being left unmanned one shift per week, not “dozens” but 1000 sworn police jobs are being left unfilled, library hours sharply reduced, city office hours curtailed.

    Our water rates have been raised 12 times in just two years, each time by at least 5% and one time was 13%, and another 8% increase was announced for 2010 already. At the same time sewer rates have been raised twice and another is promised for 2010.

    There’s nothing unique, or even unusual about Colorado Springs or San Diego. Cities and states across the nation are in similar condition and things are getting worse for them.

  3. Triple the tax rate is a lot for the average person.
    The poor and middle class will be the ones that end up losing either way.

    The wealthy would have tax havens and the regular people wouldn’t.

    The wealthy will install motion detecting flood lights, stay in their walled yards or travel, and hire security, while the poor and middle class have to deal with darkness, littered dying parks, crime and suffering.

  4. Julie.. you must be dreaming.. If focus on the family isn’t pushing for healthcare, it’s not likely they will give a hoot that someone might stub a toe in the dark or get mugged. Likely they will chalk it up as the person must have been a sinner and was being punished..

  5. California is headed this way and as far as I can tell, the situation described in Colorado Springs is fine with the obstructionist GOP here. We have already had police cuts where I live. Meanwhile we have commercial properties that have not been reassessed for 30 years due to Prop. 13. That is also fine with the GOP. They refuse to tax oil pumped from the state (the only state to not tax oil depletion). Corporations were given a tax break while in home services for the elderly were slashed. This is political ideology, not a result of a financial crash that was also caused by ideology.

  6. Can’t say the GOP is not the party of ideas. Remember when Dubya wanted to privatize social security? Everyone who has watched their 401Ks tank since the fall of ’08 can realize what a winner THAT idea is. Remember the tea party trolls and their “Government – Hands off my Medicare” signs? Let’s privatize that as well. Seems that the G(NO)P thinks these are both great ideas and they should run with them – in an election year. Let us know how that works out for you come the midterms.


  7. Colorado Springs has long been a bastion of extreme right-wingers and a smattering of libertarians. They should be praying that they don’t have a major earthquake because their fate would probably be a repeat of the recent tragedy in Haiti.

    S – The wealthy cannot not exist comfortably, or maybe at all, without the services of the poor. Of course, they are so out of touch with reality they couldn’t comprehend the reality even if pointed out to them.

  8. I have no sympathy for Colorado Springs. Actually a few CS commenters have said this actually strikes the balance for the city in regards to anti-tax hate.

  9. How big should a truck be? There ought to be one size. Instead they range from the micro-truck Suburu offered to huge 18-wheelers. It’s a waste when you think that 50 Ford f-150s could carry anything a Peterbuilt could, albeit less efficiently. (Just as the 50 states could individually duplicate federal services.)

    Ahhh, any designer or buyer of a truck will tell you – size is a function of the purpose. How much do you intend to carry? Form FOLLOWS function, not the other way around. For a city government, the issue is what services people want to ‘carry’ – that determines the ‘size’ or cost. At the federal level, the question is Social Security & Medicare, product safety and a host of services the public demands. Framing the argument around ‘size’ is a subterfuge by conservatives to sidestep the objective – which is eliminating services of no use to the rich (and therefore unnescessary)

    I know some teabaggers who would reduce the federal government to a war department and not much more. No Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security or regulation of business. But this goal is seldom spoken aloud by those in power – instead they sell the fraud of ‘small government’ while hiding their true intent.

  10. felicity, they will have plenty of poor people to choose from. They have the option of an unemployed policeman, fireman, park employee, and transportation employee. They will even have plenty of pool maintenance people since they are closing pools too.

  11. Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces….

    But that’s socialism! What is the personal benefit to the individual, after all? Better to stay in the stocked-up panic room in the basement, hugging one’s guns closely, than go to a local park for fresh air. Might get mugged by a brown person.

    There’s nothing unique, or even unusual about Colorado Springs or San Diego.

    Well, as others have pointed out, the per capita wingnut density is pretty high in both places, CS particularly.

  12. Perhaps these cuts will bring some citizens to their senses eventually. Or maybe not! No doubt these folks will find someone else to blame – the old GOP way.

  13. McMegan responded, and pretended this isn’t the result of an ideology she pushes. She’s also claimed that California’s woes are the fault of liberals and high taxes, ignoring the obstructionist GOP that prevents tax increases and the Republican governor who also refuses to raise taxes on the rich and has vowed to slash social services. Glibertarianism makes its adherents feel superior, but makes for disastrous policy and governing.

  14. S – valid point, unless of course there is a mass exodus of unemployed firemen etc. People have been doing that for thousands of years, going to wherever they can find better jobs.

    And, I’m beginning to think that what’s happening in Colorado Springs may be a harbinger of what a not too distant America will look like should the philosophy of the right-wing become the governing, economic and social norm.

  15. I expect the next step for CS and other locales (towns in California and elsewhere) will be going to battle with public service unions – instead of cutting services, they will use resident outrage to cut salaries and benefits.

    In the article about CS, the head honcho of the Broadmoor (a ritzy resort in CS) has figures for what his people make vs the salaries of those working for the municipality of CS. Something like numbers in the $20Ks vs numbers in the $80K range.

    We’re heading back to feudalism, and towns like CS are leading the way.

  16. A fire sale on all the glue that holds our civilized society together…and those who profit most by the system and profit even as the rest of us sink…those who own the legislators who have shaped the system to the advantage of their patrons will be unaffected.

    Who but the most ignorant are going to persist with this idea that government is bad and should not be involved in governing? They somehow equate the countless services government flawlessly provides as some power over them, not realizing that if not government then something else fills the vacuum…something they have even less control over.

    They’re like skittish animals who’d bite the only helping hand that will ever be extended to them. They trust no one but believe everyone who tells them to distrust.

    It’s like an evil negative feedback loop by which the more conservatives and corporatists try to disable government, claiming it ineffective, the less effective it is. …and it’s all fueled by a hysteria that are aided and abetted by media and elected officials who play the terror card for their own personal advantage.

    Sometimes I wonder whether were not collectively/cognitively impaired. A Day in the Life of Joe Republican was not enough to get some gears turning so now we need a demonstration.

    Unfortunately, some of us don’t need to play this game of how-low-can-we-sink to realize that squeezing the life out of government is as stupid as playing chicken on the freeway.

  17. “More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled. Etc…”

    I think Colorado Springs will be a fun town to live in – if you liked the series “Deadwood” on HBO, the town will be like that, except without the law that was provided even in that frontier town.
    Of course, the New Deadwood, may turn into a violent, uneducated Hellhole. But there at least won’t be the level of swearing that there was on “Deadwood.” Those are good Christians who live there. The worst you’ll hear is, “Gosh darn it, who robbed my house after it burned down when I couldn’t pay the private fire-fighters? And who brutally slaughtered my favorite underage harlot at the house of ill-repute I frequent, without my wifes knowledge, of course?”
    Maybe folks will finally learn this about government:
    “You’s gets what you’s pays for; and if you’s don’t, you’s get’s what you’s asks for…”
    Dear CS – don’t expect me to ever visit. And please don’t ask for help from any of us. You’ve apparently decided you don’t need it. So, enjoy your libertarian anarchy… If this is your idea of your slice of Heaven, you’re welcome to it.

  18. I can only think, “What hath Reagan wrought?”

    Decades of Republican propaganda that government is the problem, (unanswered by the too-timid Democrats who should have known better) have inculcated a false ‘common knowledge’, and way, way too many people want both to pay no taxes and yet to have plentiful and instant services. Reagan and his ilk encouraged the infantilization of the electorate, and gave them permission to believe in the principle of “I’ve got mine, screw you.”

    I’m reminded of the aphorism that people get the government they deserve, and I hope the people of Colorado Springs live to learn from their self-imposed lesson in small government.

  19. Big picture time here folks. Biggerbox just summarized the thoughts of these Republican anarchists quite well, but I’m not sure they really understand the consequence of what their ideas. In the car I listened to about 5 minutes of Sean Hannity interviewing Senator Jim DeMint, DeMint is responding to these teabagger anarchists by saying, “the Republicans in Washington can be ‘conservative’ too.” Hannity said something to the nature of, “I will never support another RHINO in the District of Columbia again… and I lament the fact that their are too many of them… (paraphrasing)”

    Here is where I come in: the ideas espoused by these people have no basis in my reality. Do they want anything? Do they want sidewalks in front of where they live? Do they want to get from their homes to work/play/or shopping in a safe and reasonable manner? Do they want to have an authority to call when they feel wronged by a merchant or swindler (oh shit, they are swindlers!)? I think Pat’s little story expressed this point far better than I can – the point is that Government (large or small) serves a function and has a real need in life. Yet, what I inferred from this Sean Hannity interview is that government is always bad and the only goal in our life should be to eliminate it – the statements he made had no basis in facts.

    Here is what really drives me crazy: they call themselves “conservative” – they aren’t conservatives! These guys are pure radicals, they don’t want any government, what else can they be? In any case, the cough syrup has the better of me so I may not be making any sense at all.

  20. Perhaps the ultimate ‘fate’ of CS residents will be what happened in Russia during and following the Revolution. The huge landed estates of the gentry and nobility had for years been run by serfs and other hired hands to the point where the lords of the estates had become incapable of running anything – even to the point of not being able to dress or feed themselves. They simply didn’t know how.

    As a result of this mass exodus of people to work the estates, they went to ruin and, if the owners managed to escape with their lives, they got away with their heads in tact but little else. Reduced to poverty, many simply laid down and died of starvation.

  21. “roads, bridges, street lights, law enforcement, a stable banking system, garbage pickup, etc., and these are things that have to be paid for somehow.’ The only thing that really seems to work in this list is garbage pickup and government gets no credit for that. It just happens. Govenment has failed people, stable banking system is a memory and a dream, right now it is an illusion as are roads and bridges. Law enforement with no habeas corpus or miranda rights, not the greatest at this point. Rights of the accused are soon to be a memory and a dream from the looks of it.
    HEEELP!!!!!! Don’t let the Repubs win one more seat. We will look like Haiti soon.

  22. dyed,
    We look like Haiti now. Only whiter.
    We’re one earth-shattering event away from being a “Banana Republic.”
    Thanks, ‘Banana Republicans!’
    And you’re right, Republicans, government DOES SUCK! But onlywhen you come in contact with any part of it.
    You ruin anything you touch, or even look.
    If David Vitter even LOOKED at a ‘Victoria’s Secret’ supermodel, she’d turn from looking like Billie Burke to looking like Margaret Hamilton in less time than is takes to say, “Oz!”
    Republicans, if you hate government, STAY THE F*** OUT OF IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    If I hated smelly cheese, I shouldn’t expect to campaign and then get voted in to pull blue mold out of my ass-crack and throw it in some milk for six f***ing figures a year, bitching the whole time that I hate stinky cheese and then, if I get voted out, get a lifetime deal with the “Anti-Stinky Cheese Foundation” paid for by Repubulican billionaires who eat the f***ing S*** on toast point while drinking $10,000 dollars of aged Port!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  23. Ooops, should read, “… while drinking $10,000 BOTTLES OF AGED PORT!”
    I hate when I do that… Probably one too many ‘bottles’ of beer last night.

    Remind me to re-use this rant on a fresh thread sometime, please.

  24. Pat, look at it in the long run. When we ara no loger able to get even food,water,and medicine. We wont wonder why the Somolians turned to being pirates. Will we?

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