Opinion: South Carolina's Government Problem

Taxes are bad, we've all heard for decades. Here's the result
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Haley, during South Carolina's Disability Awareness Week in March.

Government is a bad thing. Government gets its money from our taxes, therefore it follows that taxation, too, is a bad thing, at all times, in all places, no exceptions. Get government off the people’s backs. This will unleash the creativity and resourcefulness of the American people. They will thrive, and also innovate, and everyone will profit from the innovation. Everyone knows this. It’s been ingrained in our national discourse since the election of Ronald Reagan as president, and it has taken on the power of catechism, accepted as immutable truth even after the bridges fall on our heads and the water emerges brown and foul from the tap, and we blink and wonder what happened.

This is what happened. This is South Carolina, never an exemplar of robust public services, now a commonwealth in which any notion of the public good and a structure to support it has withered to the point of collapse. “South Carolina’s state government is on life support,” reads the lead paragraph of an extraordinary story in Saturday’s The State newspaper, and before you cheer and urge Nikki Haley to go ahead and pull the plug already, you might want to consider that what citizens save through non-investment in the public sector tends to come back later and exact a profound cost through dam failures, crumbling schools, unsafe bridges, and dying children. It’s basic cause and effect, nothing hard to comprehend. Yet Haley and many of the citizens she serves considers South Carolina “overtaxed.” It ranks 42nd of 50 in overall tax burden for state and local government, 35th of 43 in state individual income tax.

What can you even say? It’s the story of modern-day America, a country that accepted the idea that government is the problem and now views its ineffectiveness not as refutation of the idea but its confirmation. “It goes back to the emergence of an anti-government ideology that government is bad,” Holley Ulbrich, a retired Clemson University economics professor and senior fellow at the Strom Thurmond Institute, of all organizations, told The State. “Government isn’t bad. Government just is.” More accurately, government is, should be, us. When the people were willing to acknowledge that public good requires public investment, government worked. Now they don’t, and it doesn’t. Simple as that. When you draw the direct link between government and the people, you start to realize that Reagan was right, although not in the way he thought he was: Government is the problem.

Categories: The Buzz