Monday, August 09, 2010

Peak civilization

We are past the zenith:

The lights are going out all over America — literally. Colorado Springs has made headlines with its desperate attempt to save money by turning off a third of its streetlights, but similar things are either happening or being contemplated across the nation, from Philadelphia to Fresno.

Meanwhile, a country that once amazed the world with its visionary investments in transportation, from the Erie Canal to the Interstate Highway System, is now in the process of unpaving itself: in a number of states, local governments are breaking up roads they can no longer afford to maintain, and returning them to gravel.

And a nation that once prized education — that was among the first to provide basic schooling to all its children — is now cutting back. Teachers are being laid off; programs are being canceled; in Hawaii, the school year itself is being drastically shortened. And all signs point to even more cuts ahead.

Those are the opening paragraphs of a Paul Krugman column today in the New York Times.

emmer flintstone We are turning our backs on modernity. In the name of something that guys like Tom Emmer call “freedom and prosperity.” Small government. Indeed, so small that it can’t afford to keep the lights on.

In some circles, this is a victory. For the Canadians, maybe, or the Japanese, or even the Chinese. Because it surely isn’t a victory for us.

Less safe, less mobile, and less educated. This is not a promising development. Emmer is the Missing Link to our past: the Stone Age.

You can see the competing visions in our own governor’s race. On the one side, there’s Emmer and the other 18th century thinkers like Craig Westover, who think that every dollar that the public collects and spends is a dollar wasted; it disappears down a hole somewhere never to be seen again. And roads and bridges, and schools, and potable water and treated waste water, and cops, and public health, and state parks, and universities just appear out of nowhere. They also believe in the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

These people are, let’s be frank, damn fools.

On the other side, to a greater or less degree, are the DFL candidates for governor. I think that Mark Dayton has been the most forthright in the message: the cure for anorexia is not to eat less. But compared to Emmer, they’re all geniuses.

It’s a fish or cut bait political season. I think you have to decide which vision you subscribe to; a vote for a middle of the road, muddle through, neither fish nor fowl candidate is just indecision, moral cowardice. Sometimes, you have to go home, son, and make up your mind.

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