Galt’s Gulch: Or How the core Republican Idea is Destroying the American Way of Life
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.
That is — it might be hard to quantify the contribution of adequate street lighting to GDP — but ask yourself what it would do to retail sales to have pools of darkness every thirty feet along a commercial street.
Or — it may not show up on a a monthly report of manufacturing output, but ask yourself whether the long-tail consequences of a diminished police presence in a factory district might include an impact on that district’s safety, and hence production — or if a change in fire response times could translate into altered insurance costs.
And you don’t even have to ask the speculative question about the value of investment in school facilities and in the quality of public schooling as discovered in very real dollars in the home valuations realized by property owners in the relevant districts. That’s on that answers itself.
See e.g. this recent NBER working paper for an account of facilities spending (institutional access required for the full paper. Abstract here.) (That there is a lot of complexity in the area of the private and public economic value of education I willingly concede. But the broad picture of improved schools = higher property values appears to hold.)
It is possible, if you are a true believer, to imagine a gated world in which the “accomplished” secure for themselves all those qualities of life they seek on piece-work/piece-paid basis. Dystopic science fiction turns on this conceit, among others.
But I’m a believer in Jane Jacobs work. And the key message of her Cities and the Wealth of Nations is that you need thriving, diverse (in every sense of the word), and ambitious cities to generate the range of activities that produce both healthy economies and polities.
To get that, you need some sense of a common stake in the civic enterprise. You need to be willing to pay to keep the streets lit, potholes filled, police on their shifts and schools capable doing more than riding herd on the pre-unemployed. Any society can tolerate some proportion of the unconsciously lucky in the delusion that their comfort is insulated from any external shock. It cannot survive when that belief becomes an epidemic psychosis with an incidence >50% in one of our would-be ruling parties.
Don’t believe me? Just ask the good, tax-averse citizens of Colorado Springs.
Image: Wojciech Gerson, “Merchants in Danzig” 1865.