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May 02, 2012


Lucas Lyons

Thanks for sharing this Megan. My reaction to the news of Colorado Springs’ approach to cutting services is mixed. First, this is a great example of direct democracy—something that’s hard to find in its pure form in the United States today. I have often wondered exactly what kind of results direct democracy would yield and I was always afraid that this might happen. Residents made an incredibly poor choice in cutting these basic services that many of us take for granted. I would be interested to see if any crime spikes correlated with shutting off street lights and if the satisfaction with public parks drop as litter piled up.

If I had to guess, I would say those who voted for the service cuts would consider themselves proponents of small government and some probably jumped at the opportunity to vote this ideal into action. This is a glimpse of the limited government for which many politicians and voters swoon, at least as it relates to provision of basic public services. Although this is no Denmark or France, the securities and services on which we can depend as a result of paying into “the collective pot” are considerable—guaranteed income after retirement, police protection, appointed representation to defend our interests in the judicial system, streetlights to illuminate who and what is trolling outside our homes, highways to take us to work quickly, and heck, a loud truck, smelly truck that takes our waste out of sight and dumps it far from where we live at a nominal fee. These benefits are taken for granted and would be piecemeal, expensive and out of reach for many of us if we assumed the market would provide them.

There are many instances of graft, inefficiency, and ineptitude in the government that largely provides our basic services, but I imagine our lives would be short, cruel, and brutish without these small but crucial components of an orderly and semi-protected life like law enforcement, police protection, and municipal services. There is a point at which government-levied taxes could be oppressive in their own right, but we’re far from that situation at the moment.

Your question of who pays if public trust falls low enough to abandon basic service provision is a great ending for the reader. Ultimately, I think the answer is that we all pay in one way or another. The wealthy pay for piecemeal market-provided services, security fences, guards, and helicopter landing pads on top of their place of work in order to avoid dangerous streets (Rio de Janeiro, for example). The poor and slipping middle class pay with their mental health, sanity, and possibly lives as the market ignores their needs because of their lack of capital, influence and resources, and chaos keeps them confined to homes in fear of chaotic streets controlled by violent and organized criminal territoriality. It’s really a post-apocalyptic filmmakers dream and a reality in some countries, but not a recipe for any semblance of community. Citizens must see through their own self-interest in a country where much is provided for nominal cost and realize that everyone benefits from these services. Taxes are not inherently evil. Hopefully exercises in direct democracy in the U.S. will be less depressing than this instance.

Will Feeney

I found Megan’s piece on Colorado Springs to be simply fascinating. We live in an age where budgets, both government and household, are shrinking fast, and dollars are at a premium. Right now, additionally, a political climate exists that demands low taxes and low government waste – yet still the people want the government to provide services. How to reconcile this dilemma? I would think what happened in Colorado Springs is an anomaly: I don’t see Americans being willing to be nickel-and-dimed for participating in any sort of government program – trash pickup, park attendance, highway use, etc – simply because it would be annoying and inconvenient, on top of expensive. Can you imagine paying a toll on University Avenue, only to also pay one on Emmet Street? Furthermore, it could detract from any notion of community, as people would be unable to get together without spending money. I would be interested in seeing more data on this topic, specifically how much are people willing to pay piecemeal for different services. Is this concept unique to the local level? What might people be willing to pay for state or even federal services? Overall, we must be willing to advocate for good government expenditures that maximize efficiency and service, avoiding the hassle of trying to deal with things on an individual basis. This would have benefits not only for our government, but also for our economy, and prevent needless clutter from detracting from our ability to fund and support businesses and other important community initiatives.

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Les citoyens doivent voir au travers de leur propre intérêt dans un pays où est bien fourni pour un coût nominal, et se rendre compte que tout le monde profite de ces services. Taxes ne sont pas un mal en soi. Espérons que des exercices de démocratie directe aux Etats-Unis sera moins déprimant que cette instance.

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