Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Real Cause of the Flint Crisis

America’s infrastructure was once the envy of the world, but in an era of government-bashing, it has been allowed to crumble.

Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson

The shocking crisis in Flint—where state cost-cutting mandates led to lead-tainted water that has poisoned thousands of children—has become a metaphor for American political dysfunction. Yet it should also be a reminder of how much Americans’ health and well-being depend on effective public policies. Rather than see Flint as another case of government failure, reinforcing distrust and cynicism, Americans should instead see it as a call to action. Using the power of government, American society once solved problems like those now plaguing Flint and too many other communities. And it could do so again, if it overcame the widespread amnesia about the enormous benefits of active, responsive government.

It’s easy to forget today, but cleaning up municipal water supplies was the greatest public-health triumph of the 20th century. The economists David Cutler and Grant Miller have estimated that approximately half of the dramatic decline in mortality between 1900 and 1936—a period in which life expectancy increased from less than 50 years to more than 60—was due just to improved municipal water systems. The infant mortality rate fell by more than 80 percent. These public health measures helped lay the cornerstone of a capable system of government that could boost America’s rising economy by tackling problems that markets alone would not.

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