JUST PLAIN TALK: Decline of the public good harms growth

Buz Livingston

While it pales compared to the Houston Chronicle, one of my 2021 highlights was subscribing to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC). Did the Johnson Space Center find where Jorge Solar's home run landed? Sorry, guys, wait 'til next year. One morning recently, the AJC noted Georgia's Governor Brian Kemp's response to soaring COVID cases. It's nice when governors take action, but a couple of things hit a nerve.

Governor Kemp called the National Guard to assist overburdened hospitals and allocated $100 million from the American Rescue Act of 2021 to hire contract medical staff. While both are necessary, they are expensive. Vaccine and mask mandates wouldn't have eliminated Omicrom infections, but the science is clear; they reduce the spread. In Houston, children wear masks in classrooms. A kid sitting beside our first grader tested positive, but she didn't. Plus, they are cost-effective; Google what contract nurses get paid.

In 1736, an enterprising newspaperman named Ben Franklin urged citizens of Philadelphia to improve fire safety by famously noting "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Unfortunately, not everyone in Philly was on board with fire reduction strategies. But the problem is when one house catches on fire, every house in the neighborhood is in danger. So, it's in the public good to mitigate fire danger versus fighting a roaring inferno.

Without the American Rescue Act of 2021, either Georgia taxpayers would have covered the $100 million, or there would be understaffed hospitals. As a Georgia taxpayer, I prefer the American Rescue Act, and it's another example of shared public services benefitting society.

Some argue the erosion in public services over the last 40 years leads to a jaundiced view of public health. For example, excluding people with pre-existing conditions and the elderly, COVID deaths are exponentially higher among the unvaccinated. For some, it's thumbing their noses to elites. The writer (and retired Chief Petty Officer) Jim Wright describes it as "suicide by petulance." In poorer zip codes, the decline in public health institutions leads to an overall distrust in them. Writing in The New York Times, Dr. Anita Sreedhar and Anand Gopal argue, "vaccine hesitancy is the erosion of the idea of a common good."

The societal benefit from infrastructure projects can be hard to visualize immediately. We spend less on infrastructure than when I graduated high school, based on a percentage of GDP. Reagan was wrong; the federal government is not the problem. I offer the future I-10/US 331 intersection improvement as Exhibit A.

Taxpayer-funded higher education has been slashed over the last two generations. Burdensome debt cripples graduates' ability to buy homes and start families. Moreover, college costs and infrastructure indicate how the decline of the public good harms growth.

The Latin phrase "E Pluribus Unum" graces the scroll of the United States. A rough translation is we didn't get here on the same boat, but we're in the same one now.

You can't always get what you want, but Buz Livingston, CFP, can help you figure out what you need. For specific advice, visit livingstonfinancial.net or drop by 2050 West County Highway 30A, M1 Suite 230.