Monday, July 05, 2010

Of Fireworks, Recessions and Teachers

Like many Americans, last night we went to see the fireworks show, as we do every year. However, this year we went to a different event than the one we usually go to, since the town where we normally go to see our 4th of July fireworks eliminated the program due to budget cutbacks. At a time when state and local budgets are strained and many Americans are struggling to find a job and pay the bills, is there still justification for literally blowing up tens of thousands of dollars in the form of fireworks, while eliminating jobs and cutting programs?

Yes, there is.

Even in the best of times, there is never enough money for all the programs a city or a state would like to run. There is always a case to be made for one more teacher in the classroom, one more road paved or one more dollar allocated to a soup kitchen. If you go by that logic alone, not a cent will ever be allocated to cultural events. It's rough to vote to eliminate a job or a program to balance the budget, while also signing a purchase order for fireworks, which after all is said and done will be nothing more than memories 30 minutes after the show starts, but that's not the whole story.

While the benefits of fireworks (or local theater, parade or park) are more difficult to quantify than the value of an extra fire engine, these benefits are just as real and important. Cultural programs and events strengthen the community, help folks break out of their daily routine and, well, they are fun. Fun is important too.

We can't afford to be completely utilitarian all the time. I understand that local budgets need to be trimmed. If there is no money, there's no money, but even fireworks should have their place of honor, especially on the 4th of July.

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Kim Stiens said...

Haha, I generally agree with your position, but as a utilitarian, I had to laugh at that phrase: We can't afford to be completely utilitarian all the time. :)

Shadox said...

Utilitarianism, broadly defined, is a good thing. It's about fact based decision making.

Utilitarianism, narrowly defined, is not a great thing. It's at risk of short term thinking (just like publicly traded companies worrying only about the next quarter and forgetting about long term value or planning).