Darkness is Spreading in America

Colorado Springs, to save money, has turned off a third of its streetlights.

Similar measures are taking place all over America, according to Paul Krugman, “from Philadelphia to Fresno.”

But it’s not just streetlights. It’s infrastructure of all kinds. Some states and local governments are breaking up their paved roads and returning them to gravel, because they can no longer afford to maintain them.

Teachers are being laid off.

In Hawaii, the school year itself is being shortened.

Krugman explains the cause of these events:

Our political class is showing its priorities: given the choice between asking the richest 2 percent or so of Americans to go back to paying the tax rates they paid during the Clinton-era boom, or allowing the nation’s foundations to crumble — literally in the case of roads, figuratively in the case of education — they’re choosing the latter.

In the short run, those state and local cutbacks are a major drag on the economy, perpetuating devastatingly high unemployment.

It’s crucial to keep state and local government in mind when you hear people ranting about runaway government spending under President Obama. Yes, the federal government is spending more, although not as much as you might think. But state and local governments are cutting back. And if you add them together, it turns out that the only big spending increases have been in safety-net programs like unemployment insurance, which have soared in cost thanks to the severity of the slump.

How did we get to this point? It’s the logical consequence of three decades of antigovernment rhetoric, rhetoric that has convinced many voters that a dollar collected in taxes is always a dollar wasted, that the public sector can’t do anything right.

To see a graphic representation of the results of these policies, look at this 36-second video (no audio). It shows the county by county unemployment rates from January 2007 to March 2010, with higher unemployment rates coded  in darker colors.

It’s a vivid illustration of the growing “darkness” in America.

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