Sandbagged by big government

Last month, two big events happened in the North Country.  The first was the tax-filing deadline in mid-April, a time of fear and loathing for many people.

The mantra these days is hard-wired into the American psyche, part of our live-free-or-die-DNA:  This is our money and the government has no place making our wallets any lighter.

But the second big event was a deluge of rain and snow water that began April 26th.

A week later, it’s still raining and those tax dollars we throw in the kitty have materialized in the form of sandbags, dam and bridge inspectors, and road reconstruction crews.

When I cover stories like this, I’m constantly struck by the break in how we view the government and our relationship to it.

We grumble, we tell pollsters we think the whole affair is too costly and too wasteful.  But when storm comes we expect government to be there.

They say there are no atheists in foxholes?  Well, there are no libertarians in a crisis.

This schizophrenic attitude extends to the highest levels of politics and to all parties.

When he was in Moriah last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, promised that aid would continue to flow to the region.  But when asked how it would be paid for, he didn’t have an answer.

But the simple reality is that every fire truck pumping basements this week and every backhoe shoring up road embankments is paid for either by taxes or borrowed money.  It’s really that simple.

And as we begin the massive reconstruction efforts, even more cash will have to come out of someone’s pocket.

The time is long overdue when we should begin to think and talk more honestly about how to pick up the tab for the government services we need and demand.

As always, your thoughts welcome.

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40 Comments on “Sandbagged by big government”

  1. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Thank you, Brian.

  2. George Nagle says:

    My tenth grade social studies teachers asked, How can we expect politicians to be honest with the people when the people aren’t honest with them?

    It is hardly honest to demand goverment services and not be willing to pay for them.

  3. Peter Hahn says:

    The disconnect seems to be that most people are happy to pay for stuff we need, but they (we) dont want to pay for stuff we dont need. They (we) seem to think that most of our tax money is going to stuff we dont need (waste and fraud, or for welfare payments for deadbeats and criminals).

  4. newton says:

    Hard-wired to put it mildly, Brian. The demand for government services and simultaneous outrage at having to pay for them is fundamental to our national (collective ) character, and is, in fact, the principal reason why a we exist as a nation.
    - In the run-up to the “French and Indian” War, colonists were constantly raging about Indian depredations and their legislatures constantly refusing to raise taxes to provide for an adequate defense against these depredations.
    -After Great Britain spent immense blood and treasure to win the war and make secure the colonies from attack, colonists were outraged when asked to partially offset the costs of the war. Thus the Stamp Act and other outrages (much lower than taxes paid by the British themselves), led to the American Revolution.
    -After the war, Massachusetts attempted to raise taxes to pay war debts, (without which it would default, and it’s credit become worthless). Massachusetts farmers once again rebelled (this tax was especially unfair to farmers, it is true) , in Shay’s Rebellion. Though it was put down, fear of additional rebellions sweeping the nation led to the calling of the Constitutional Convention, which created our Federal system.
    -When the new Federal government attempted to raise revenue by taxing liquor, the Whiskey Rebellion broke out in western Pennsylvania. President Washington’s successful, and bloodless, suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion put an end to violent opposition to armed violent resistance to government collection to pay it’s expenses, vital or otherwise. But it did not put an end to the inclination of many Americans’ certainty that they should receive much from, and pay little or nothing to, the government. Needless to say, government is far from innocent in fostering the widespread belief that much of what is paid is wasted.
    -

  5. mary says:

    Not too sure what aid will be given to me with a residence that is not year round. Sounds like in Long Lake the money will only be given to “primary” residents. Hearing that makes me think I need no government in the adirondacks — just need to remove any assets I can lose. Not sure if they will pump a basement of a summer home or a 3 season home.

  6. Peter Hahn says:

    Mary – since summer homes and 3 season homes pay property taxes like everyone else, but use fewer services than the year round residents, “they” definitely should pump your basement.

  7. Bret4207 says:

    Okay, in my mind there’s a difference between emergency response to a natural “disaster” and decades long programs funding the entitlement culture. The firemen in Long Lake pumping basements are VOLUNTEERS using local tax dollars to fuel the trucks. They aren’t FEMA or SEMO people.

    Isn’t part of this a matter of scale? How much is “enough”? I mean, if 2 fire trucks within 3 miles of your home is good, would 10 fire trucks next door to your home be better? If Gov’t provides subsidized health care for low income families through tax dollars, would 100% coverage for any health issue of our entire population be “better”? You get to the point of diminishing returns after a while.

  8. Pete Klein says:

    If we had zero taxes we would have 100% corruption because there still would be a government. Everything would be about bribes. The rich would do quite nicely until the general population rose up to “eliminate” the problem.
    No matter what, you have to pay to play.

  9. Peter Hahn says:

    Pete – e.g. Afghanistan

  10. Peter Hahn says:

    Bret – re public health care – yes you get to diminishing returns, but we arent anywhere near there yet. However in our private health care system we are way past diminishing returns.

  11. Bret,
    It’s telling that during Katrina, the criticism of FEMA is not that they were doing too much but that they were doing too little. I heard the same complaints during the ice storm of ’97-98.

  12. JDM says:

    “We grumble, we tell pollsters we think the whole affair is too costly and too wasteful. But when storm comes we expect government to be there.”

    The two observations in this statement are not mutually exclusive.

    Our Federal and State Governments are big, wasteful entities who are charged with providing certain definable services to their constituents.

    No, we don’t need to pay MORE taxes for the required services.

    Yes, we do need to work at eliminating waste and services that can BETTER be provided from the private sector.

  13. JDM says:

    My conclusion is that it is physically possible to have MORE essential services, LESS waste, and LOWER taxes.

  14. mervel says:

    It is fascinating. I mean do we really understand what it means to be self-reliant? There is this assumption that “someone” will be in charge if something really bad happens.

    But Peter is correct most of us like services we personally use, but really don’t like paying for all of that “other” stuff. The problem is that as we go through life we all partake of different services at different stages.

  15. Bret4207 says:

    BrianMOFYC- I didn’t hear that at all during the Ice Storm. What I did hear was that national NGOs (Red Cross) were coming in mandating that we work things their way. They were told, by Dede IIRC, to go pack sand. I worked the Ice Storm and other than National Guard I didn’t see anyone from the State or Federal Gov’t. I did see local communities coming together and helping each other make do.

    I would also note that Katrina is a fine example of attitude. Mississippi got nailed just as hard as La. Ms. didn’t have a N.O. Why? I think it’s attitude.

    Peter, trust me, I have a very real and personal understanding of the health care plan issues within my own family. The problem is that the system we have put in place (Obamacare) appears to bring as many problems as solutions. I don’t have a plan to fix it all, other than outlawing health insurance, but how does making it worse make it better? By worse I mean bigger and far, far more costly.

  16. Peter Hahn says:

    Bret – there is no evidence that Obamacare makes things more costly and some evidence that it saves some money (globally). We will find out in 10 years or so. It could have been better (made health care cheaper and more rational), but thats democracy.

  17. hermit thrush says:

    pop quiz time!

    A recent report by the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, found that the United States can save how much money [per year] by addressing government waste and duplication?

    - We cannot save any money.
    - About $15 billion to $20 billion
    - About $100 billion to $200 billion
    - About $500 billion to $600 billion
    - More than $1 trillion

    go here for the answer. (but you have to go through four other questions first.)

  18. Bret4207 says:

    But Peter, the reports are out saying it’s going to be far more costly than anticipated right from the CBO! http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703858404576214622084940078.html

    I’m all for a workable answer tot he issue, but I don;t think this is going to be it.

  19. Bret4207 says:

    HT, $15-20 billion is still a lot of money. And I rather doubt they they consider “waste” in the same light I do. I went to the end of the link you provided and went to the program on the “Chopping Block” to cut Gov’t spending. I managed to cut $175 Billion with a clear conscience. Elimination of whole depts like Energy and Education, which I consider waste, aren’t included in the GAOs figures I’m sure.

  20. hermit thrush says:

    that’s a very good point, bret — “waste” is a concept whose definition varies greatly from person to person. the main point i want to make is that i think it’s a commonly held idea out there that there’s a lot of government waste purely in the sense of inefficiency or duplication, but it’s really not so! (at least at the federal level; i’m much more ignorant of the situation at the state level.) $15-20 billion is a huge sum of money to you and me, but it’s a drop in the bucket on the scale of the entire federal budget, only about 0.5-0.75% of the budget. that’s by no means to say that such waste shouldn’t be eliminated. it’s just that it’s a lot less of the story than i think many people realize.

  21. Peter Hahn says:

    Bret – Obamacare may well cost more than they thought at first. (May cost less in the long run as well). But that doesnt make it costlier than things would have been otherwise. Our present system is increasing at a double digit rate.

  22. Mervel says:

    At the same time though what percentage of the funds used so far in fighting these floods and helping people directly are from the federal government? How many are volunteers and how much of it is local county and village money?

  23. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Mervel, the great thing is that people were out helping where they could, when they could. There will be time to argue about who should pay what amount after the floodwaters recede. And there will be angry people on all sides saying that somebody else didn’t do their fair share to pay. That’s life.

  24. Mervel says:

    I realize that and it is a great thing.

    I just think on government most people say well yeah big government is not a good thing, but my personal government..my police, my hp, my volunteer fire, my teachers they are great.

  25. JDM says:

    “waste” is when you drive to Fort Drum, look at the anti-tank road blocks rusting in place, see the third iteration of the same building being built in less than 5 years, etc.

    I could account for Hermit’s $15-20 billion on a tour of 10% of our government armed services installation.

    My point is (since I am generally in favor of a strong defense), that $15-20 billion in savings is complete fiction.

    $15-20 TRILLION is a little closer.

  26. Bret4207 says:

    I would also note that there is often duplication of services at the Federal, State and County/Town/City level. NYS is reported to have multiple programs at the State level doing the same job and the Federal level is also doing the same job, all related to low income employment services. Is it better to have a centralized “one big agency” (with it’s normal inefficiencies and impersonal service) or several smaller agencies or multiple small agencies at the local level? I’m not stating an opinion but rather asking for your thoughts. The only thing I’d hope we’d agree on is that having ALL of them in play at once is completely inefficient and wasteful.

    Anyone who’s ever worked in a bureaucracy of any type, be it the US Military, State Agencies, large private companies, etc, is certainly familiar with the inefficiencies that come with scale and the waste that accompanies it. People keep saying that if we all get together and save a little fuel or energy here and there it’ll make a big difference in the end. The same idea should apply to waste, duplication and fraud/abuse of the system.

  27. JDM says:

    Yeah. If we went the GAO’s $15-20 billion worth of waste number, that’s like saying our government is 99.99% efficient.

    Hahahahahaha!

  28. Paul says:

    If you want to live or have a business in the places where these ones have flooded you should factor in to your finances that at some point you may need to pay to have the thing pumped out. This type of help hasn’t been needed since 1971 in Saranac Lake anyway. To be paying for it for 40 years while we wait for a flood seems pretty dumb to me.

    I live in a wet area so I have a pump in my basement. People need to learn to take care of themselves. We have come to rely too much on someone else doing our dirty work for us.

    Firemen are there to put out a fire not pump out your basement because you wanted to live too close to the water.

  29. hermit thrush says:

    jdm,

    i understand you’re taking a hyperbolic tone on purpose, but it really should be pointed out that the numbers you’re throwing around smack of innumeracy. the link i cited above puts the yearly federal defense budget at $717 billion. 10% of that is $71.7 billion. so it strikes me as really preposterous that you’d find $15-20 billion in waste by touring 10% of our military installations (and of course not all of that $717 is getting spent at military installations).

    moreover, not to be a pedant, but that $15-20 billion number is like saying the federal government is 99.5-99.75% efficient. which is a lot different than 99.99%. (and finally, i should acknowledge again that different people will define waste differently, and i’m not necessarily endorsing what the gao does and doesn’t call waste. i just want to get some ballpark numbers out there.)

  30. JDM says:

    Hermit, of course I’m speaking in hyperbole. But common sense says that there is at least 50% waste in everything the government does, overall.

    I was watching some program on PBS about Mt. St. Helens, and the commentary said over and over again, “we didn’t expect this to be this way”. and “the experts miscalculated”, etc.

    Well, the experts are miscalculating government waste, among other things, which is why those of us who don’t park our brains ignore the GAO, and use common sense. It will only be a matter of time before the GAO discovers some inaccuracy and agree with common sense thinkers, anyway.

    I love it when the unemployment numbers come out, and the adjective is always, “unexpectedly”. “the unemployment jumped, unexpectedly higher to the highest in 8 months!”

    “Well gosh, Mabel, those experts were fooled, again!”

  31. hermit thrush says:

    But common sense says that there is at least 50% waste in everything the government does, overall.

    obviously this isn’t something that’s going to get resolved on a blog comment thread, but let me just say that in my opinion, that’s some gold standard magical thinking. the sort of thing that ought to get you laughed out of the room. instead of relying on “common sense” — the true mark of when someone has decided to park their brain — i’d invite you to back that up with some kind of rigorous analysis. i think you’re going to have a pretty interesting time showing that half of, say, the federal budget is waste.

  32. Mervel says:

    The farther the government is removed from the people it serves the more waste you will see. The local volunteer fire department is very efficient compared to the national FEMA board and how it spends money. The local village police are much more efficient than the FBI. Our local schools are efficient when compared to the state Department of Education and so forth.

    The more money involved the more waste is produced as you have interest groups become involved in capturing that money.

  33. Walker says:

    JDM, I’d have to agree with Hermit Thrush– it’s utterly absurd to say that there is at least 50% waste in all government operations! And it’s equally absurd to assume that businesses are all models of efficiency.

    It’s been my experience that, public or private, managers and workers generally try hard to achieve efficiency within the constraints they operate under.

    Is General Motors any more efficient than a typical government agency of similar size? How do you calculate the “efficiency” of an operation like the Enron scam, the Savings and Loan debacle, or the work of the Wall St. banksters over the last few years?

    What about the efficiency of our private enterprise medical system? Based on cost and health outcomes, our system seriously under-performs most (all?) single-payer systems in the world.

    I, for one, am heartily sick of the trashing that government has been taking for the last thirty or so years. It’s worthwhile asking yourself how much of your attitude is the product of a relentless anti-government marketing campaign being carried out in the interests of billionaires who are trying to get out of paying their fair share.

  34. oa says:

    Mervel said: “The farther the government is removed from the people it serves the more waste you will see.”
    I think that’s more an article of faith than fact, Mervel. Here’s just one example of a small unit of government that really wasn’t that efficient or responsive: http://articles.cnn.com/2010-09-21/justice/california.bell.arrests_1_luis-artiga-misappropriation-victor-bello?_s=PM:CRIME.
    Happens up here, to a lesser degree, especially in the local court system.
    And as for,”The local volunteer fire department is very efficient compared to the national FEMA board and how it spends money,” this is a little different from your example, but while I laud the volunteer departments in surrounding areas, there are just far more catastrophic fires in the outlying areas than in my small city, which has a paid, professional FD. It’s hard to efficient when your resources are spread as thin as many of the volunteer FDs’ are.
    A big question here is, when it comes to things like disaster relief, do we want only efficiency, or effectiveness? I’ll take a little waste from a govt if it provides food and shelter for people driven out of their homes by a 100-year flood.

  35. Walker says:

    Paul says: “I live in a wet area so I have a pump in my basement. People need to learn to take care of themselves. We have come to rely too much on someone else doing our dirty work for us.”

    Well OK, but if we’re talking efficiency is it efficient for everyone whose basement might flood once in twenty years to own a pump, or does it make more sense to have a few pumps that are brought out and used by many for a few days every twenty years? Self-sufficiency is great, but it does generally come at a cost.

  36. Jim Bullard says:

    I realize that this is a late comment but I want to respond to Bret’s contention that there was no Federal response to the Ice Storm of ’98. I was supervising the Massena DOL during that period and we had 135 temporary relief workers that we farmed out to school districts, towns and the country. The Southern half of the county had a similar number and there were similar emergency workers deployed throughout the the North Country. Although they worked under the direction of local government, NYS DOL paid them using Federal Emergency Relief funds. They weren’t wearing badges or uniforms that said so but it was a Federal response.

  37. Paul says:

    Walker, If you want to live on or near the water you have to be prepared to deal with what mother nature throws at you. As you can see from this experience there are not enough pumps to go around so now the feds have to cough up a bunch of money to repair and replace all the stuff that got ruined. Efficiency does not mean that the guy on top of the hill should pay for the guy that wanted to live at the bottom despite the risk.

  38. Bret4207 says:

    Walker, I agree with aprt of your asseration (8:39), but a good deal of the trashing of the Fed Gov is well deserved. It’s not so much anti-gov in my view as anti-unresponsive/bloated/growing ever larger gov’t. that doesn’t care about fly over country, rural areas, etc. I imagine you might disagree but there’s a reason there are so many people in the Tea Party/libertarian/alternative parties on the right end of the spectrum, and it’s not Rush Limbaugh or Beck.

    On your 9:04- it makes sense for the individual to prepare and not to depend of gov’t to bail him out, literally in this case. You simply can’t count of someone else being there when the rest of your community needs help.

    Jim Bullard- My salary was at one point paid by the Federal Gov’t (although I imagine NYS got a lot more than what they paid me). That didn’t make me a Federal Employee any more than grants to our schools make our teachers Federal employees.

    I think we all know that there are times when massive support for emergencies is required. The question is do we need a massive Federal or State Bureaucracy with the resultant costs and inefficiencies or do we need a smaller bureaucracy that supports more localized volunteer and has the suppplies on hand to distribute to those volunteers, or to professional not normally used in that capacity? Myself, I’d like to find a balance point between the all or nothing answer.

  39. Notinthevillage says:

    Brian you don’t know what a libertarian is because you don’t understand the difference between ‘private goods’ and ‘public goods’. Roads are ‘public goods’. If you knew anything about libertarian beliefs you would know that it’s the governments confiscation of tax payers money for ‘private goods’ that is the problem. Not the spending of taxpayers money on ‘public goods’, like roads. Your entire argument is based on your ignorance.

  40. Notinthevillage…..

    After reading your post, I only see anger and non-constructive criticism.

    “Your entire argument is based on your ignorance.” reads to me like you have an issue with Brian other than his post.

    Your response caused me to have an immediate negative response to your post. After reading both the original post and your response the only thing I can see is that maybe Brian should not have used the word Libertarian. It definitely seems to upset you.

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