BREAD AND CIRCUSES

Posted in Quick Hits on July 5th, 2010 by Ed

I don't relish being That Guy who throws a wet blanket over delightful holiday traditions, but as I sat through the fireworks at the local park on Sunday night I could not help but wonder why in the hell any town or city in America was having fireworks this year. Aren't we all broke? Like, laying people off and closing schools broke?

My current city of about 100,000 is as broke as any other similarly sized urban area in the country, if not moreso. The average fireworks show for a place of this size costs anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 depending on the level of extravagance. For governments preaching fiscal austerity, belt tightening, and "tough decisions" this seems like a frivolous expense. Chicago raised a lot of ire by canceling its massive Grant Park fireworks show in 2010. While I've attended that event many times and gotten quite a bit of enjoyment out of it, it is the right thing to do in one of the most fiscally strapped cities in the country. How can $1.5 million be justified for fireworks when they can barely keep the schools open?

The political rhetoric of "tough choices" is very different from the reality. Cutting pensions, benefits, and salaries of government employees or slashing budgets for education is easy. Most people don't notice the effects of those cuts in their daily lives. The real tough choices are the ones people will notice – tax hikes and canceled services. And even though fireworks shows are hardly on the same level as things like policing, street repair, or garbage collection, they all have one thing in common: people will notice that they are gone. So it appears that here in Georgia, as in most of America, the elected officials would rather blow money on something totally unnecessary than risk canceling the circuses and having to explain to the half-conscious herd what "We are completely broke" means. Better to just make up the difference by cutting something Cletus the Teabagger won't notice. You know, something like the public library.