I am happy to announce that I have completed the return drive from North Carolina. In total, the round trip was about 1,500 miles with my wife, my 2 year old son, and my 8 month old daughter in an SUV for approximately 25 driving hours. As I was doing this, I encountered a scene which struck me as a metaphor for bureaucrats of Mitch Daniels’ nature. I’m not saying it is insightful or elegant; in its delerium, one’s mind can conjure up all sorts of metaphors during that sort of road trip.
In several states, but particularly in Indiana — perhaps by coincidence, I saw long stretches of road torn up for construction while only a very small portion of that road was actually being worked on, creating delays for drivers that are longer than apparently necessary. I’m sure there is a reason for this. My non-cynical suspicion is that it is cheaper to do stages of construction in fewer longer stretches than to do the stages in more numerous short stretches. My cynical suspicion is that contractors want to rip up the road before anyone changes their mind.
Going with the non-cynical explanation, that it’s cheaper this way, it occurred to me that it’s only cheaper for the costs that are being measured. If you count the cost to individual motorists of lost time, inconvenience, fuel, increased time in close quarters with a screaming infant, and decreased family harmony as the occupants of the vehicle turn upon one another (o.k., those last few may not be generally applicable), then the cost/benefit equation looks a lot different. And here is where Mitch comes in. His brand of “smaller” government seems, in many cases, to be nothing more than shifting costs to where they can’t be measured. Sweeping them under the rug, as it were. In fact, the road construction I described is probably a little more useful as a metaphor than as an example. I doubt this method of construction is at all peculiar to Indiana or Gov. Daniels. But he seems to have a passion for shifting costs in this fashion. A better example is FSSA closing the state hospitals. It doesn’t eliminate the costs, it just shifts them on to those in need who will in turn create other costs, most likely for local law enforcement which ends up being the provider of last resort. The jails can’t say no.
At the moment, I’m a bit road weary to develop this idea further at the moment (yet another cost!), but when you hear Mitch or purported advocates of “small” government like him bragging about cutting costs, look closely to see whether the costs have actually been cut or merely externalized where they can’t effectively be measured.
Good point, Doug – the least understood part of capitalism, IMHO, is externalities – and it is the part that we misunderstand at our own peril.
And by the way, your concern about decreased family harmony IS a widely shared one! I’m sure each of us has enough evidence on the topic to produce a well-researched report.
Somehow it’s become the perverted american dream.The indiviudal is free to make his own choices,but it’s never pointed out that there is no choice beyond what he can afford..But somehow it seems the poorer we are,the more we’re bailing out others. The main purpose of government is to control gays and abortion to keep the country moral ,and to make sure profit remains high and wages remain low,by targeting tax cuts for the well-to-do.Patriotism is support of war and applauding outsourcing of wages by multi-national corporations. It’s hard to understand details( because most are secret) but we’re all getting the BIG picture.
Your point about shifting costs seems consistent with the changes made by Mitch at the BMV. Fewer outlets, longer lines, less in the way of state outlays. Our mailman mentioned the other day that he had to take a full day off just to deal with license tag issues. The analogy doesn’t prove the case, but I too have noticed how road work here feels like it is done at the contractors’ convenience.
Excellent post, delirium or not. Sometimes the shift in costs can be measured, such as local law enforcement having to pick up where the state hospitals left off. But who has the time or inclination to do the measuring? (At least some of costs can be measured.) Also, many people may not associate increased crime in their communities with cuts in gov’t services.
I feel it necessary to mention that if your budget is not balanced, you have two choices: cut spending and push liabilities into the private market (which creates some externalities) OR raise taxes to cover the overspending.
Would you be willing to pay an extra 1% in income tax so that your wait in construction would be cut by 10 minutes?
There are some cost-cutting things I definitely would pay extra taxes to avoid–Medicaid cuts, teacher pay cuts, etc. Also, I want the government to solve BIG externalities, like pollution and worker exploitation. But if I faced a proposal that my taxes be raised to protect citizens against ‘decreased family harmony’ and such things, I’m sorry to say I would have to decline.
That being said, long car trips with the family are made much worse by construction.