Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

America’s (rapid) decline

with 5 comments

Nicholas Kristof writes in the NY Times:

In upper-middle-class suburbs on the East Coast, the newest must-have isn’t a $7,500 Sub-Zero refrigerator. It’s a standby generator that automatically flips on backup power to an entire house when the electrical grid goes out.

In part, that’s a legacy of Hurricane Sandy. Such a system can cost well over $10,000, but many families are fed up with losing power again and again.

(A month ago, I would have written more snarkily about residential generators. But then we lost power for 12 days after Sandy — and that was our third extended power outage in four years. Now I’m feeling less snarky than jealous!)

More broadly, the lust for generators is a reflection of our antiquated electrical grid and failure to address climate change. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave our grid, prone to bottlenecks and blackouts, a grade of D+ in 2009.

So Generac, a Wisconsin company that dominates the generator market, says it is running three shifts to meet surging demand. About 3 percent of stand-alone homes worth more than $100,000 in the country now have standby generators installed.

“Demand for generators has been overwhelming, and we are increasing our production levels,” Art Aiello, a spokesman for Generac, told me.

That’s how things often work in America. Half-a-century of tax cuts focused on the wealthiest Americans leave us with third-rate public services, leading the wealthy to develop inefficient private workarounds.

It’s manifestly silly (and highly polluting) for every fine home to have a generator. It would make more sense to invest those resources in the electrical grid so that it wouldn’t fail in the first place.

But our political system is dysfunctional: in addressing income inequality, in confronting climate change and in maintaining national infrastructure.

The National Climatic Data Center has just reported that October was the 332nd month in a row of above-average global temperatures. As the environmental Web site Grist reported, that means that nobody younger than 27 has lived for a single month with colder-than-average global temperatures, yet climate change wasn’t even much of an issue in the 2012 campaign. Likewise, the World Economic Forum ranks American infrastructure 25th in the world, down from 8th in 2003-4, yet infrastructure is barely mentioned by politicians.

So time and again, we see the decline of public services accompanied by the rise of private workarounds for the wealthy.

Is crime a problem? Well, rather than pay for better policing, move to a gated community with private security guards!

Are public schools failing? Well, superb private schools have spaces for a mere $40,000 per child per year.

Public libraries closing branches and cutting hours? Well, buy your own books and magazines!

Are public parks — even our awesome national parks, dubbed “America’s best idea” and the quintessential “public good” — suffering from budget cuts? Don’t whine. Just buy a weekend home in the country!

Public playgrounds and tennis courts decrepit? Never mind — just join a private tennis club!

I’m used to seeing this mind-set in developing countries like Chad or Pakistan, where the feudal rich make do behind high walls topped with shards of glass; increasingly, I see it in our country. The disregard for public goods was epitomized by Mitt Romney’s call to end financing of public broadcasting.

A wealthy friend of mine notes that . . .

Continue reading. What’s weird is that the wealthy seem perfectly willing to spend large sums for generators, private security forces, private schools, and on and on, but not willing to spend the money in taxes to improve the overall infrastructure for the common welfare.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2012 at 7:27 pm

5 Responses

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  1. Happy Turkey Day to you and the wife.

    the warrioress

    21 November 2012 at 10:22 pm

  2. Thank you very much. And the same to you. In our case, it’s a pan-roasted duck breast day. We’ve made the recipe at the link before, and it’s marvelous. In addition, cooked whole-grain spelt sautéed in a little butter with pecans and dried cranberries, and steamed kale sautéed in a little olive oil with onion, garlic, and diced Meyer lemon. Probably a bottle of wine to accompany same. You’ll note my regular balance: protein, starch, greens, and a little oil.


    22 November 2012 at 9:15 am

  3. I live on Long Island; I grew up in Queens. Growing up we had a blackout in 1977, and then another one in 2003 along with the rest of the seaboard. On Long Island, where I’ve lived since buying a house in the 90s, we have brown outs and black outs all the time. This past go-around with Sandy, we were out for 14 days; the wife and kids spent this time back in Queens with my in-laws, who did not lose power. Had my mother still been alive they would have stayed with her, her house where my sister lives also did not lose power. Why the disparity? Simple, the power lines in the city are buried and not susceptible to falling trees. How much would it cost to bury the power lines on Long Island? It’s been estimated that this project would require 30 years and $25 billion dollars to complete, There are about 2.9 million people on Long Island in about 1,000,000 homes; it would therefore cost about $25,000 per home to get this done. My neighbors had a gas fired generator installed on a cement slab for $5500, likely this will cost more now, given the demand.
    So for me, the simple math is black and white; bringing climate change and tax cuts on wealthy Americans (of which I am not one) seems to me to obscure the hard facts that fixing the distribution grid is plain and simple about numbers and what people are willing to pay for and how long they are willing to wait.
    Me, I plan to leave Long Island and buy a house on a hill, and install a generator.


    25 November 2012 at 8:50 am

  4. And a belated Happy Thanksgiving to you Michael!


    25 November 2012 at 8:53 am

  5. Thank you, Zach. We had quite a nice one, and we’ve enjoyed the 4-day break. (No Black Friday shopping for us.)


    25 November 2012 at 9:09 am

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