For decades, American voters have held “public goods” as a value and connected the ability to provide public goods with the taxes we pay. That was part of our national story. We valued things like roads, bridges, highways — infrastructure, in other words. We invested in land grant and public colleges, and in public schools, so that bright young people from whatever social class could make the most of their abilities. We built public parks, public hospitals, and public libraries, and held at least some beaches open to the public. We invested in basic research, like the discoveries at DARPA that led to Steve Jobs commercializing great products under the Apple brand. We supported skills training, and set money aside for assistance for the desperately poor so they could eat and keep the heat on and stay dry. We connected all of that with paying taxes; taxes are what allows federal, state, and local governments to provide public goods for us, the public.
Hard to say when the connection in ordinary people’s minds between taxes and public goods was severed. But the consensus among all these red state voters about taxes being bad and public goods being unnecessary has been building for many years. Much of the shift has been driven by libertarians like the Koch brothers, who see no reason why their largesse should benefit anyone else.
The uber-rich don’t need public goods as much as the rest of us. The Koch brothers don’t need public parks; they have country clubs. Sheldon Adelson doesn’t need public beaches; he has his high end casino resorts. The Mercer family doesn’t need public schools, or public hospitals, or public libraries.
Does the ordinary voter not get what he or she is voting for? Do people really no longer care about public goods? Do people not understand that the tax bill being rushed through Congress decimates funding for public goods in order to shower money upon people of inherited wealth, investors, and — funny thing — those in the real estate development biz?
I continue to be perplexed.