The subject of this column is essentially identical to the one Mr. Bailey posted on Monday, so I suggest you read his contribution as well.
“Charity is the opposite of justice.” That thought has been attributed to Ayn Rand, the Torah, and Nigerian folklore—and probably some other places I have yet to read. It can be a disturbing thought, disturbing because often truth is intuitive rather than comfortable.
What is wealth after all and should it be redistributed? Charity itself, is of course the residue of prosperity. Hobos are not philanthropists. One can even get sardonic about so-called ‘income inequality’, especially in these incoherent times when the unwashed elite are ‘occupying’ various public parks and screaming about the 99 and 1%!
But let’s set the broad-brush aside and get to our own city’s budget and the ‘haircut’ we are about to undergo. A lot of what is about to happen will seem unfair, and depending on who you are and where your priorities lay, it just may be so—and ‘justice’ or just the reality of this new situation will indeed be the opposite of ‘charity’ or the ‘entitlements’ we once assumed would keep flowing like the Fox.
So fair (or unfair), the warning is out. This year’s recalibrated and renegotiated budget will at times be brutal and arbitrary. On occasion, those with the loudest voices will prevail over other worthy causes with less political traction or social capital. Nothing was ever perfect, it just becomes more contentious when abundance recedes.
Yet this is also an opportunity, a chance to define the parameters we want to live within, a time to set out the goals we wish for our town and livelihoods.
The absolute bare bones theory of municipal funding, i.e. a scheme that does no more than support police, fire & emergency, and public works is a philosophical trope and neither a possible reality nor the way we must or should live and pursue our futures. Simplicity is always seductive, complexity a headache, but then again a diverse and cosmopolitan city of 108,000 souls is not an act of ignorance. All the parts are always moving. Anyone who thinks they understand economics does not.
But as we go forward, it could be helpful to consider they way things are rather than the way we choose to either remember them or wish them to be.
This is no longer a classic robust Midwestern manufacturing town, although Elgin has a more vibrant core of manufacturing than most places. It is quietly hidden in smaller businesses rather than the old model of huge factories and belching smokestacks.
Retail has long ago left the core of the city, headed outland and franchised itself onto the encircling roads.
All this can be confusing, scale is a matter of perspective, the vanishing point seems to move away and towards us at the same time, so it becomes as good an opportunity as any to quote my favorite guy, George Orwell, “We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue. ... The only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”
Not that reducing our town’s budget is mortal combat, but in the times that are coming, we may think so. Orwell also once said, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”
There is no noble factory down on National Street that lets out thousands on Friday with wages in their pockets, closing Grove to vehicular traffic and heading in wave to the merchants downtown.
It’s a bit more ambiguous these days. A lot of people who work here, live elsewhere—a lot of people who live here work elsewhere, but property taxes and diminished real estate values begin and end at drawn city limits.
In the end what I said last week still seems the vital thought for a middle middle class town—“no jobs, no city.” The mayor has said that the big thought these days is small business and he’s probably right. So one more quote from Edward Glasser in the current City Journal:
“Unemployment represents a crisis of imagination, a failure to figure out how to make potential workers productive in the modern economy. The people who make creative leaps to solve that problem are entrepreneurs. If we want to bring America’s jobs back, our governments—federal, state, and local—need to tear down barriers to entrepreneurship, create a fertile field for start-up businesses, and unleash the risk-taking innovators who have always been at the heart of our economic growth.”
And yet one more from George Orwell for when the politicians chime in: “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.“