The Decline of the Public Good

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    The following are excerpts from an article by Robert Reich.

    What defines a society is a set of mutual benefits and duties embodied most visibly in public institutions – public schools, public libraries, public transportation, public hospitals, public parks, public museums, public recreation, public universities, and so on.

    […]

    America no longer values public goods as we did before.

    The great expansion of public institutions in America began in the early years of 20th century when progressive reformers championed the idea that we all benefit from public goods. Excellent schools, roads, parks, playgrounds, and transit systems would knit the new industrial society together, create better citizens, and generate widespread prosperity. …

    But in a post-Cold War America distended by global capital, distorted by concentrated income and wealth, undermined by unlimited campaign donations, and rocked by a wave of new immigrants easily cast by demagogues as “them,” the notion of the public good has faded…

    total public spending on education, infrastructure, and basic research has dropped from 12 percent of GDP in the 1970s to less than 3 percent by 2011.

    Andy Schmookler comments:

    This decline has occurred for various reasons, but paramount among them has been the degradation of the right into an expression of unbridled selfishness.

    Elsewhere in his article, Reich connects this trend in society with the emergence of a wealthy class that purchases privately the “goods” we have previously considered social or public goods.  For example, very wealthy people are choosing to live in gated communities, with their own security services, to send their children off to private schools, and to let the rest of society go to hell.

    Our great moral and religious traditions repeatedly teach about the centrality of our connectedness. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is the opposite of “Every man for himself.”

    A force that founds itself on selfishness, that leads people to care not a whit about their neighbors, is animated the very opposite of the vision that our traditions have given us as guides to the Good.

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    Andy Schmookler is running for Congress in the 6th Congressional District of Virginia, challenging the incumbent Congressman, Bob Goodlatte.  An award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, Andy moved with his family to Shenandoah County in 1992.  He is a graduate of Harvard University and holds a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley.  

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    To learn more about Andy, please go to his website. You may also follow Andy on Facebook and on Twitter.