John Podhoretz is right: The most fundamental job of government is to maintain our shared infrastructure. When that infrastructure fails us — when steam pipes explode, bridges collapse, and cities are paralyzed by nothing more than rain (as today in New York), government has failed us. Podhoretz wrote this before New York fell apart from minor flooding:
To maintain public safety, we have armies (to defend us from external threats), police forces (to protect us from criminals) and firefighters. That’s part of the reason we pay taxes to government in the first place.
The other part is to keep up publicly shared spaces and utilities – parks, streets, reservoirs, water tunnels, sewage tunnels and the like.
Government properly requires all citizens to share in defraying the cost of these expenses because it supplies them to everyone without question.
The social compact here is simple: We give the money to government, and all we ask in return is that these publicly shared responsibilities and resources are properly maintained.
Maintenance is necessary but boring, and since government is made up of human beings who abhor boredom, few elected officials or high-level managers are all that interested in this mundane task. Instead, they want to do big, exciting, bold new things – things they can claim for their own.
Now, not surprisingly, Podhoretz goes on to begin a two-paragraph treatise on the size and scope of government. We can debate that all day long. But no one should debate the fundamental job of government in maintaining our infrastructure — and the failure of that.
New York and New Jersey today were brought to a halt because of some rain. Yes, it was a lot of rain in a short time. But every damned time we get a lot of rain, the same damned things happen. And we just let them happen. Streets and subways flood. Why hasn’t government built drains? Why haven’t we insisted?
It took me four hours to get into New York City today — that was New Jersey’s fault — but when I got there, the subways were closed and the riders were kept uninformed and the transit system did nothing to help them (except abuse people who wanted to get onto buses). Government failed. It failed at the fallen bridge. It failed a few weeks earlier when a New York street exploded. It fails every day there is an air-traffic-control mess. It failed today.
We need to demand that government get to the boring job of government.