well, except that there are people who really believe this. if you know me at all, you know i spend more than my fair share of time wondering about people who really distrust the government. i view them like a different species because they fascinate me in an unironic and not-too-judgmental way.
a few days ago, the journal featured an eye-opening story on colorado springs, the second largest city in colorado. voluntary labor and donations are taking over the administration of community centers, garbage collection, street lights and even the police force:
Taxi drivers have been recruited to serve as a second set of eyes for stretched police patrols. Residents can pay $100 a year to adopt a street light. Volunteers are organizing to empty the garbage cans in 128 neighborhood parks. The city is asking private swimming programs to operate its pools, and one of the city's four community centers soon will be run by a church.
granted, colorado springs is the home of focus on the family, not exactly a bastion of progressivism. and yes, colorado springs represents a trend of sorts. like most other cities in america, colorado springs must confront the twin problems of decreasing tax revenues and inflated budgets left over from rosier days (and, in the case of california, a third problem: the inability to raise tax rates). the numbers are not adding up, and more and more drastic measures are being introduced as a result. in fact, new york city just floated a proposal to charge the working homeless rent for shelters. in addition, unemployed homeless people (or at least one individual in a homeless family) will be required to obtain a job before qualifying for a shelter subsidy.
i definitely do not idealize government. it can be and is often inefficient, bullheaded and wasteful. and like in virtually every other aspect of life, many have figured out elaborate ways to game and manipulate the system. even though i've been tempted on more than one occasion to remind government workers that my tax dollars are funding their salaries, i don't really think i'm getting my money's worth when i'm arguing with time warner for the umpteenth time or the asshole at the apple genius bar rolls his eyes at my "problem." so what do people want?
"Let's start cutting stupid programs that cost taxpayers a pot of money," says Tim Austin, a 48-year-old former home builder now looking for a new line of work. "It's so bullying and disrespectful to take money from one man's pocket and put it in another's."
ok fine. but you know, while it's nice to believe that a group of local residents will convene to collect trash in the surrounding area, good luck with that. i'd much rather have a group of people with some degree of accountability and monetary incentives dealing with something as important as basic sanitation. and who's to say what's stupid?
then it makes me think, am i cynical for not believing in voluntary collective action or are the others cynical for eschewing government? is cynicism the issue? are we all mistaken about others' motivations? is there some public/private sweet spot?