Priorities

PRIORITIES…. The New York Times reported over the weekend on cash-strapped states and municipalities resorting to “major life-changing cuts in core services.” This includes four-day weeks for public schools, local bus systems being shut down, and turning off streetlights in Colorado Springs. The report comes on the heels of a Wall Street Journal piece about several state governments cutting back on paved roads, because they can only afford gravel.

State and local officials don’t want to raise taxes, Republicans in Congress don’t want to spend money and “bailout” states, and the consequences are both evident and predictable. We’re told we can afford tax cuts and wars, but not teachers and highways.

This, in turn, undermines the economy at a critical time — as states lay off public employees, the jobs picture gets worse — and as Paul Krugman explained today, weakens the nation’s future.

Everything we know about economic growth says that a well-educated population and high-quality infrastructure are crucial. Emerging nations are making huge efforts to upgrade their roads, their ports and their schools. Yet in America we’re going backward.

How did we get to this point? It’s the logical consequence of three decades of antigovernment rhetoric, rhetoric that has convinced many voters that a dollar collected in taxes is always a dollar wasted, that the public sector can’t do anything right.

The antigovernment campaign has always been phrased in terms of opposition to waste and fraud — to checks sent to welfare queens driving Cadillacs, to vast armies of bureaucrats uselessly pushing paper around. But those were myths, of course; there was never remotely as much waste and fraud as the right claimed. And now that the campaign has reached fruition, we’re seeing what was actually in the firing line: services that everyone except the very rich need, services that government must provide or nobody will, like lighted streets, drivable roads and decent schooling for the public as a whole.

So the end result of the long campaign against government is that we’ve taken a disastrously wrong turn. America is now on the unlit, unpaved road to nowhere.

It’s worth emphasizing that this is all completely avoidable. Americans just have to muster the political will to reject the misguided ideas of failed ideologues, and demand a more sensible course based on sound public priorities.