Social & Domestic Issues

Screw the State. Let’s Do it Ourselves!

[The following is an excerpt from Mark Steyn’s new book, After America: Get Ready for Armageddon, which was recently published by Human Events’ sister company Regnery Publishing.]
 
The unceasing centralization of power nullifies the American Revolution.  Even surviving local institutions aren’t as local as they used to be.  The nearly 120,000 school boards of America in 1940 have been consolidated into a mere 15,000 today, leaving them ever more to the mercies of the professional “educator” class.
 
If this trend is going to be reversed, it will be by states and municipalities both ignoring Washington and, when necessary, defying it.  “It is important to recognize the distinction,” said President Reagan in 1987, “between problems of national scope (which may justify Federal action) and problems that are merely common to the States.”  The former ought to be a very limited category:  The best way to save “the United States” is to give it less to do, and the best way to do that is with a Tenth Amendment movement.
 
A friend of mine is a New Hampshire “selectman,” one of those municipal offices Alexis de Tocqueville found so admirable.  In 2003, a state highway inspector rode through town and condemned one of the bridges, on a dirt road that serves maybe a dozen houses.
 
That’s the bad news. The good news was the 80/20 state/town funding plan, under which, if you applied to Concord for a new bridge, the state would pay 80 percent of the cost, the town 20.  So they did.  The state estimated the cost at $320,000, so the town’s share would be $64,000.  Great.  So the town threw up a temporary bridge just down river from the condemned one, and waited for the state to get going.  Six years later, the temporary bridge had worn out, and the latest revised estimate was $655,000, so the town’s share would be $131,000.
 
That’s the bad news.  The good news was that, under the “stimulus” bill, they could put in for the 60/40 federal/state bridge funding plan, under which the feds pay 60 percent, and the state pays 40, and thus the town would be on the hook for 20 percent of the 40 percent, if you follow.  If they applied for the program now, the bridge might be built by, oh, 2018, 2020, and it’ll only be $1.2 million, or $4 million, or $12 million, or whatever the estimate’ll be by then.
 
But who knows?  By 2018, there might be some 70/30 UN/federal bridge plan, under which the UN pays 70 percent, and the feds pay 30, and thus the town would only be liable for 20 percent of the state’s 40 percent of the feds’ 30 percent.  And the estimate for the bridge will be a mere $2.7 billion.
 
While the Select Board was pondering this, another bridge was condemned.  The state’s estimate was $415,000, and, given that the previous bridge had been on the to-do list for six years, they weren’t ready to pencil this second one in on the schedule just yet.  So instead the town put in a new bridge from a local contractor.  Cost: $30,000.  Don’t worry; it’s all up to code—and a lot safer than the worn-out temporary bridge still waiting for the 80/20/60/40/70/30 deal to kick in.  As my friend said at the meeting:
 
Screw the state. Let’s do it ourselves.
 
“Screw the state” is not a Tocquevillian formulation, but he would have certainly agreed with the latter sentiment.  When something goes wrong, a European demands to know what the government’s going to do about it.  An American does it himself.  Or he used to—in the Jacksonian America a farsighted Frenchman understood so well.  Big Government is better understood as remote government.  If we can’t “do it ourselves” when it comes to painting schoolrooms or building bridges, we should certainly confine it to the least remote level of government. (pp. 333-335)