The Magic that was this Journey

Sunday, April 10, 2011

12 – 4/10/11: In Praise of Public Goods and all Things Great

Two people I interviewed in Ashland, Wisconsin (more on Wisconsin interviews in the next blog) had this to say about government:

When functioning the way it is supposed to be, government is the collective effort to provide what we need for civil society: police, roads, drivers’ licenses, support for the poor, clean air, water, etc.

The economy doesn’t work without government; government provides the common-wealth.  If the road to your business is not plowed, you will have no business. Government does what we need for the common good –those things that private industry does not, or cannot, provide (like defense).

I’ve wanted to write in praise of the public goods (and all things great) I’ve availed myself of while on this epic journey and these two folks handed me the opportunity to do so.

In the ten weeks I’ve been on the road, I’ve:

·         Traveled over 6000 miles of public roads and highways, including a section of the original Lincoln Highway (see post #1 - unfortunately, the Lincoln Highway segment felt like it was the original, it was so pocked and cracked. Infrastructure deficit!).
·         Availed myself of countless public restroom facilities.
·         Drove two National Parkways, highways in the National Park System (Natchez Trace and Blue Ridge).
·         Visited and/or camped in two national parks (Joshua Tree in California and the Cuyahoga Valley in Akron, Ohio).
·         Visited and/or camped in three county parks.
·         Visited and camped in 11 state parks.
·         Visited two National Lakeshores, Indiana Dunes (Lake Michigan) and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Lake Superior).
·         Ate fish that came from a recently certifiable “ok-to-eat-fish-caught-here,” Lake Erie (no small feat to clean that lake).
·         Took two public (and free) ferries: one from Mustang Island, Texas and one across the Mississippi River.
·         Filled my water tanks from public water sources.
·         Dumped my RV tanks at public dumping stations (including one at a service area on the Ohio Turnpike, a remarkable thing).
·         Breathed clean air.
·         Ate safe food.
·         Treated my migraines with drugs regulated and tested for safety.
·         Walked my dogs on trails built and maintained by public entities.
·         This trip was possible because of a sabbatical, provided by a public college.

Like the business that can’t do business if public goods aren’t present (roads, snow removal, water, sewage), this journey would not be possible without this long, likely incomplete, list.  In fact, if it weren’t for public schools, libraries and public student aid for college/university, I would not be here, doing this trip, doing this work.

So, today, I sing praises to public goods and wonder how we can spread the word to others that public goods, literally, provide foundation and ballast to our lives.

I also sing praises to all things Great as I find myself, in Ashland Wisconsin (visiting former colleague and friend Sharon Anthony and her family) on the shore of yet another Great Lake. 

I’ve found myself during this trip, on the shores of three (really great) Great Lakes: Lake Erie, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.  As the pictures show, Superior is still working on giving up its ice.

1 comment:

  1. Cheryl: I looked at your post a few days ago and was just too tired to write anything at the time. Then, the other night (Thursday, I think) I saw most of a "Frontline" episode on immunization, and that kicked loose some thoughts about public infrastructure, etc. The anti-immunization proponents frame their debate in at least two ways: first, doctors and pharma are acting in bad faith, and second, that personal research when done in support of an issue passionately believed in trumps wisdom of a field of inquiry. It is a narcissistic mindset, but one that gets an imprimatur of "defending freedom" from what passes for libertarian conservatism today. (Note: I have not alluded to deeply held beliefs from religion preventing parents from allowing immunization.) The most frustrating component of this mindset is the "convenience" factor: parents finding it more convenient not to get immunization--this is one of the big parts of WA's high opt-out of immunization. The idea of "public" is superseded; it's an obsolete paradigm. To many today there is no public, only private writ large. And how can you argue with the perversely blind about collective needs? It's the triumph of Ayn Rand, and no amount of commonsense, old-fashioned "we're all in this together" can ameliorate that. The deconstructing of the hierarchical universe has led not to liberation but to a false sense of empowerment and a privileging of the personal at the expense of all else. At the risk of being preachy, I think the antidote to "Atlas Shrugged" is not JFK's "Ask not..." but rather Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment." I think there is a rich, untapped lode of material for public admin research on the links between religion and public goods/the public good: think Rule of St. Benedict, the Catholic Worker movement, or the mutual aid infrastructure of the Latter Day Saints.