None of the public services we rely on and take for granted would stand a chance of being implemented in our current political climate if they didn't already exist.
By Ryan McGreal
Published March 09, 2020
If you don't think our politics have shifted dramatically to the right in the past few decades, try this thought experiment:
Imagine public libraries didn't already exist. Imagine someone coming along and saying, "I think the government should pay to construct a building in every town, fill it with books and other knowledge and information media, and let anyone come in and borrow them for free."
Do you think any mainstream political party would take that seriously?
Now imagine we didn't already have public K-12 schooling. Imagine someone coming along and saying, "I think the government should directly take over schooling from age 3 to 18 and provide it free for everyone. In fact, they should make education mandatory for everyone."
Can you already hear the peals of laughter from the Serious Realists over such an outrageous proposal? The recriminations, tongue wagging and fear mongering from Fiscal Conservatives?
Run down the list of public services - trained responders whom the government pays to drive to your house in specialized vehicles and put out fires or take you to the hospital? For free? - and you can carry out the same thought experiment.
Look at how ridiculously hard it is to even talk about the idea of giving health care to everyone in America, the only OECD country that doesn't already do that. Even the so-called "centre left" scoffs at how "unrealistic" such proposals are.
Face it: none of the public services we rely on and take for granted would stand a chance of being implemented in our current political climate if they didn't already exist and weren't already entrenched in our expectations.
Even so, the mainstream parties - liberal and conservative alike - are relentlessly chipping away at the public services we do have, deregulating them, starving them for resources, and selling them off to private bidders in whole or in part.
The next time a Serious Person scoffs at an idea by calling it "socialist" or "unrealistic", remember that every public service we hold dear - the things we can't imagine our quality of life without - also started out as a "socialist" and "unrealistic" pipe dream.
But they were fortunate enough to be imagined during a more hopeful, more humane, less sociopathic era.
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