They used to say that the definition of a recession was when your neighbor lost his job, and a depression was when you lost yours.
Well, after this week’s monumental Detroit-area rainstorm and flood, we now have a new definition for our dictionary of popular economics. You can say that wasteful government spending is when Washington or Lansing helps someone else.
Proper allocation of scarce resources is when they help -- you.
That may sound like a joke, but all too many people subconsciously feel that way.
You need only drive through the streets of communities like blue-collar Warren and more affluent Huntington Woods to get a sense of the scope of this week’s destruction.
Warren Mayor Jim Fouts has called on Washington for assistance, saying “if the federal government can help flood-damaged communities in various countries, I think they can help flood damage in the city of Warren.”
Good luck with that.
We have no idea of the dollar cost of the losses, but what should concern us more is what this storm did to our infrastructure.
Consider only the heavily damaged interchange where I 75 and I 696 come together. When the rains passed, one of the state’s most heavily traveled traffic arteries had become a mud-choked lake.
During the rain the slope collapsed and the pumping station lost all its power, according to Jeff Cranson, communications director for MDOT, the Michigan Department of Transportation.
That might have happened no matter what, but here’s the real scandal: The kind of short-sighted, irrational thinking that propels the Tea Party was clearly responsible for the scope of the damage, and threatens to cause much more.
Groups like it have for years brainwashed people into thinking that they are overtaxed, that all taxes are bad and government should never raise revenues.
As a result, we don’t maintain our infrastructure.
Here’s something devastating that MDOT’s Cranson said yesterday: “58% of all the pumping stations in Detroit are in poor condition. Only 22% are in good condition.”
That’s because we are unwilling to spend the money to fix them.
The state of Michigan budgets $2 billion a year for prisons, but only $2.8 million for all the 165 pumping stations in the state. The cost to replace or significantly upgrade one is nearly half the entire yearly budget.
So guess what. They are falling apart.
Cranson told the Detroit News yesterday that in some cases scrappers have stripped some stations of wires, rendering them totally useless.
You would think that our governments would be hard at work figuring out what they need to do to prevent this latest infrastructure failure from happening again, but you would be dead wrong.
Lansing has still done nothing about our collapsing roads.
Instead, yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville pleaded for “newer ideas” to fix them. By which he apparently means, find some way to get billions of dollars without anyone having to pay for it.
That doesn’t seem to be working.
So here’s an old idea. Be leaders, raise taxes, save the infrastructure and save civilization and the economy in this state. The lunatics may hate you. But future generations will be glad you did.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.