Free Markets, Free People

Daily Archives: March 22, 2013


Why it is so hard for government to quit spending

It’s hard, in a nutshell, because no one wants to see their favorite programs defunded.  The system encourages politicians to pander to these constituencies for votes.  The result is ever increasing spending while both the public and the politicians claim to be for spending cuts.

A perfect example of the process can be found in microcosm in Chicago, where, to save money in the wake of intemperate government spending, the school system plans on closing 54 schools.  The constituency affected are not going to let this go quietly.  Even though the plan would save the city $600 million over 10 years and certainly help close the 1 billion dollar shortfall it suffers, the people (voters and teacher’s unions) who don’t want those schools closed are taking their protest to the politicians (aldermen) who depend on their votes.

The problem now being realized with the process described above is there’s a thing called “reality” that intrudes on this system of ever increasing spending to satisfy the demands of ad hoc constituencies.  It’s called economics.  And it has laws that resist being broken.  Laws such as you can only spend more than you have for so long before you can’t get anymore to spend.  And at a local level, where a city government can’t print money, that reality has come to bear on the process that the city of Chicago has indulged in for so long.

It can’t afford the process any longer.  And that means the process and its cycle will, of necessity, have to be broken if the city isn’t to become another Detroit.  In the case of the school closings in Chicago, the only question that remains is whether or not the politicians, in the face of opposition by a coalition of voters/unions/politicians, will do what is necessary or  – as we see on a national level time after time – endeavor to find a way to satisfy the coalition and kick the can down the road?

To the story:

Chicago Public Schools officials ended months of speculation when they released the list of 54 schools the city plans to close, but the pushback against Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his schools chief is likely just starting to ramp up.

As word of the schools on the long-awaited closings list trickled out Thursday, parents, teachers and community members — some furious, some in tears — vowed to fight the closings. One group took a bus of people to protest in front of the homes of school board members, and some parents spoke of a lawsuit. The Chicago Teachers Union already had scheduled a mass protest march through downtown for next week.

"We are the City of Big Shoulders and so we intend to put up a fight," union President Karen Lewis said. "We don’t know if we can win, but if you don’t fight, you will never win at all."

Emanuel and schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett say the closures are necessary because too many Chicago Public School buildings are half-empty, with 403,000 students in a system that has seats for more than 500,000. But opponents say the closures will further erode troubled neighborhoods and endanger students who may have to cross gang boundaries to attend school. The schools slated for closure are all elementary schools and are overwhelmingly black and in low-income neighborhoods.

About 30,000 students will be affected by the plan, with about half that number moving into new schools.

So 30k out of 403k will be effected in a school system that appears to have a declining population.  Any sensible person would understand that even if money wasn’t a problem, at some point adjustments would need to be made. 

But we’re a schizo population who somehow believes – even as our reality  reminds us in our own lives daily that we’re delusional – that we can have our cake and eat it too. 

This problem and the reality aren’t unique to Chicago:

Chicago is among several major cities, including Philadelphia, Washington and Detroit, to use mass school closures to reduce costs and offset declining enrollment. Detroit has closed more than 130 schools since 2005, including more than 40 in 2010 alone.

The problem is, however, pretty unique to cities who’ve followed that process I described above and, for the most part, have been “blue” strongholds for decades.  Reality is weighing in on their misguided governance with a vengeance.

What’s interesting is it is pitting blue against blue (blue city government against teacher’s unions, etc.).  And, it also has a coterie of politicians who refuse to accept reality because, well because it could cost them their jobs and the perks that come with it:

The issue has again pitted Emanuel against the Chicago Teachers Union, whose 26,000 members went on strike early in the school year, idling students for seven days. Chicago aldermen and other lawmakers also have blasted the plan.

Of course they have.  Common sense and reality say the plan is the way to go. 

But we all know, in the world of politics, common sense was killed off decades ago and reality is ignored as long as possible.

And look at the result.

~McQ

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