This little quip is thanks to Chuck Rosenberg, he said it on The Racheal Maddow Show a couple of years ago (at least, that’s when I heard it) and I knew I would have to do something with it.
First off, it is important to understand that – as a humungous organization – nothing the U.S. Government does happens quickly. It was amazing that it only took weeks for COVID stimulus “checks” to reach people. And the only reason that worked was because they used the IRS to deliver the money and the IRS already had systems in place to take care of that sort of thing.
Most things the government does, at least the fancy new stuff that makes the news, do not have a system in place. In fact, a new system is sort of the point. But, I’m digressing.
In the physical world, inertia is what keeps still things still and moving things moving. Getting something big and heavy to move takes a lot of work. It also takes a lot of work to get something big and heavy to STOP moving (or move in a different direction).
Institutions, like the U.S. Government, also suffer from inertia. Doing something new or changing how things are done takes a lot of work. Thus, “government moves at the speed of a credenza.”
We can all suffer from institutional inertia. I also call it the “I don’t wanna’” syndrome. If we’re not moving, why would we want to start? This leads us to a problem I’m seeing everywhere lately: resting on our laurels.
What’s a Laurel and How do I Rest on It?
A laurel, as in laurel wreath, is a plant. A laurel wreath was the prize for winners of games, wars, what-have-you in ancient Greece.
Initially, “resting on laurels” was what people of great achievements did when they retired. Now, however, it basically means to bask in your past successes without taking further action.
Here’s the problem: laurels die and successes become obsolete.
Back to the Government
There was a time when Americans, with encouragement and support from the government, did big and amazing things. We thought, invented, and built. And we earned some amazing laurels.
Now, we ponder, paten, and outsource – and there isn’t much new to brag about.
All the while, our quality of life is declining because no one wants to maintain or improve what we made our name on. All those glorious things we’ve built are falling apart, yet no one wants to invest in fixes or upgrades (in this case, invest = pay).
Roads, bridges, sewage systems, water containment and delivery systems, and everything else that makes up the country’s infrastructure have a life span. And you know what? That life span is well past for much of our infrastructure. Facilities are old, don’t work as well, and must support more people than intended – that is not a good combination.
In the News
There are two news-worthy events that have fueled this recent rant about infrastructure, the U.S. Government, and Americans suffering from institutional inertia: the Brent Spence bridge and rain in California.
Brent Spence Bridge
This bridge connects Ohio and Kentucky and something like a third of the country’s Gross Domestic Product crosses it annually.
The bridge opened in 1963. Declared “functionally obsolete” in 1985. Finally, in January 2023, a plan – with funding – for a new bridge as well as reconfiguration of the existing bridge is in place and scheduled to begin. If things go according to plan (yeah, right), construction will take six years.
For 40 years that bridge has officially been insufficient, and for another six years, it will be less than insufficient as construction will occasionally hinder it. That a new bridge may be complete before the current one falls into the river is amazing. That the plan includes continued use of the current one deserves a face-palm.
Everyone knew they needed a bridge, no one wanted to pay for it.
Rain in California
Whatever you think of the cause, it is hard to argue that, for much of the planet, the weather is different today than from 20 years ago. While California has always been a drought state, things have been “severe” for the past few years.
From late December through mid-January, we’ve received quite a bit of rain. In two weeks, the San Francisco Bay Area got roughly 15” of rain. The annual average for San Francisco is 20” while the January average is 4.4”.
Well, maybe. Here’s the problem, much of that rain is ending up in the ocean. (Doing some damage along the way.) Why is it not captured and stored for treatment and re-use? This is a drought state, after all. Because that’s a crazy hippy idea that no one wants to pay for.
As a state, California does not get enough rain. That’s a nature problem. On the other hand, our water systems are inadequate for the current population. That’s a human/government problem.
Our Tax Dollars at Work
So here’s the next annoying thing. The purpose of government – local, state, and federal – is to take care of things that are for the “common good” such as roads. These are things that all the individuals want and make use of yet are not able to create or maintain.
Thus, taxes. We pay the government to take care of these things. At least we’re supposed to.
I admit, I do my best to get tax refunds. However, if I could designate where my tax dollars went, I might not work so hard for that refund. I am interested in good roads, water containment, public schools, extensive and reliable public transportation, and several other things. I am not interested in former Congressmen and Senators getting free excellent health care for life. (And yes, at the federal level, they do.)
Call to Action
(I’m supposed to put one of these in every post.)
Pay your taxes, vote for people who want things that you want, vote – no matter how hard it may be.
America’s laurels are wilted and our bragging rights are gone. As a government of the people, the people need to participate. And because “government moves at the speed of a credenza,” we need to keep participating to see change in the future, because we won’t see it today.
And, if you’ve been resting on your laurels, get up and do something new – everyone’s tired of your stories!
– Lorrie Nicoles