Avoiding wasteful government spending

Jacksonville, Florida has avoided it so successfully that residents who find rabid animals in their yards are completely on their own. After all, freedom includes the freedom to get rabies.

A little vignette from Jacksonville: a family discovers a rabid raccoon in the back yard and then discovers that no public agency is prepared to deal with it. Their mistake was not calling Grover Norquist, who no doubt would have been willing to drown the raccoon in the same bathtub with the federal government. Since Norquist already foams at the mouth, a bite wouldn’t have done him any harm.

Looking for a way to stimulate the economy quickly? How about sending some federal money to state and local governments so they can hire people instead of laying them off?

Update Thanks to reader Ed Whitney, who flagged this story for me. Since our hyper-active spam filter has prevented him from posting his comment, here it is:

“Problem solved” when the family kills the raccoon with a shovel—this is where we see the divergence between two philosophies of government. It is a matter of what we conceive as the “problem space” and its boundaries. Brett sees the problem space as the family back yard, with its boundaries defined by the fence that marks the boundaries the property line. This very nearly defines the conservative approach to government; it defines problems in terms of individuals and the boundaries of their private space. The individual family is affected by the rabid animal in the yard, and solves the problem by killing it with a shovel.

On the other hand, liberals will tend to see the problem space with larger boundaries. In this case, the problem space is the entire area in which rabies is endemic in the wild animal population. The entire community is affected by a wildlife population in which the prevalence of rabies is high, and the problem space crosses not only family property lines, but probably crosses county and even state lines.

That makes this story such a fine ink blot test. Or maybe an Ishihara color perception test. Being red-green colorblind, I see mostly spots on the images, but I know people who say that they can see numbers in the patterns. I do not think they are making things up; there are numbers there that I simply cannot see.

In the story from Florida, the pattern “Rabies Control=A Public Good” is loud and clear. If the family had bolted the doors and waited a while, the rabid animal would have gone to another yard, perhaps one where a small child was playing. Clinical rabies remains one disease with a case fatality rate close to 100%. It is a public good to have mechanisms to control it.

If Brett or I leave dirty dishes in our sink, they do not migrate to the neighbor’s kitchen and do not crawl off into the municipal water supply. “Clean Dishes= A Private Good.” Eventually I get tired of the pile of smelly dishes and get out the detergent and take care of them on my own without government assistance, as befits a private good.

This vignette serves well to illustrate a paradigm defining the distinction between conservative and liberal thinking about government and its role.