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Friday, December 30, 2011

UPDATE REDUX: Turning Out America’s Lights

I’ve written here and here about something I feel is emblematic of a deep rot in modern America’s understanding of what it means to be a community:  the turning out of public lights in towns all across the country.  For a people that consider themselves to be the “first” of the First World nations, we have become so absolutely opposed to reinvesting any taxpayer money in the commons that now many communities can no longer afford to maintain streetlights.  In 21st century America, our towns are going dark because we refuse to pay enough in private taxes to keep the public lights shining.

Today The New York Times published another story about this phenomenon.  Although the story mostly focused on Highland Park, Michigan, the article pointed out that “similar [cost-cutting] efforts have played out in dozens of towns and cities” across the country.

Chalk it up as just one more piece of evidence that we have stopped caring about maintaining our nation as a going concern; we no longer seem to think of the United States as something in which to invest, but simply as something to exploit until it is completely hollowed out and then . . . what?  Phase three:  profit?

The turning out of America’s lights in towns and cities, one by one, is only the most stark example of what appears to be a long-term trend that eschews investment of any sort (education? infrastructure? health care?) in the future of the country.  Via Kevin Drum, Mike Mandel provides this chart:

Mandel explains that net business investment is well below historical levels, household and institutional investment is at a 40-year low, and

Government net investment as a share of net national product is at a 40-year low. . . .  This is a true failure of economic policy.  Government is punking out, just at the time when a public investment surge is needed to make up for the private investment drought.  As a country, we should be investing more, not less.  (emphasis in the original)

Everybody keeps telling me that we “should run the government like a business.”  Well, businesses these days don’t think much beyond the next quarter’s profitability and/or stock price, and so now apparently neither do our governments.

No one is going to have to remind us to turn off the lights as the US exits the world stage.  Turns out we’re just gonna refuse to pay the electric bill and let the lights go out all on their own.

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