On my way to the public library, hoping to borrow some books and miss the busy period for the tykes’ storytime, sipping some iced tap water to swallow my daily meds (which I’m confident are safe), driving on the state highway and county roads, stopping at the municipal traffic controls, I muse about the letter my friend, Michael Curtis, wrote asking that the government get off his back, quoting a Thomas Sowell (B.A. Harvard, magna cum laude; M.A. Columbia; Ph.d. University of Chicago; employment: Cornell, UCLA, Stanford) epigram mocking both socialism and intellectuals.
Mike is president of Kauai Senior Citizens Softball Association, which practices and plays for free on Department of Parks and Recreation fields; the kupuna often talk story after the games in the county pavilions, also used for parties, weddings, etc., and hold fundraisers at the Kauai War Memorial; we’re awaiting AEDs from a county grant.
I recall that citizens in Scandinavian counties with higher taxes and more social services than in the U.S. consistently rate their satisfaction with life higher than U.S. citizens. I remember the smog-filled sky of New York City of my youth, and recollect watching the Bay Area transform from polluted grey to mainly clean air, because of government regulation. People even swim in the Hudson River now. Far fewer are smoking; a dramatic change in only a generation or two.
I pass public schools, the KCC providing occupation training to our young adults, hospitals largely underwritten by public funds, staffed by doctors who went to medical schools significantly supported by tax dollars, using inventions and therapies based upon federal research grants, while I’m listening to the radio whose stations don’t overlap and create chaos due to federal regulation, going past quiet residential neighborhoods as a result of zoning and planning, with regular garbage pick-up, fire department and police protection and streetlights.
The library is adjacent to the beach, to which public access is required; other beaches have lifeguards to increase safety. The employees of the ocean-front hotels earn at least minimum wage, and have access (for a while) to medical care.
I’m grateful that the dangers of pesticide use, even if hotly debated, are greatly mitigated by pervasive regulation, and that dedicated government employees motivated by concern about the aina and makaainana, rather than personal profit, are looking to keep the rivers clean (or restore them), the parks usable, reusable items recycled, emergency care immediate, invasive species controlled, endangered fauna and flora protected, disasters prepared for, senior citizens cared for, and the consequences of self-centered business redressed.
Mike, a Realtor, admits the market can’t deal with the lack of affordable housing, but dismisses building any subsidized units as a solution. History, he says, shows “socialism is a bad idea.” My trip’s thoughts are mainly the opposite. He must bemoan proposals for assisted child care, non-ruinous health care, job retraining for economically obsolescent occupations, shelter for the homeless, assistance to the disabled, or other non-market approaches to recognized problems which afflict our citizens.
Personally, I think the bad idea is turning our backs on issues because the solutions might not enrich people (perhaps only providing many people a living) or may even cost money and require taxes.
As a different economist said, “The modern conservative (or libertarian) is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”
Jed Somit is a resident of Kapaa.