If there is one thing that almost always remains a constant within US politics it is the mythology of decentralisation that is sold to the masses as ‘democracy closer to the people’ but ends up resulting in financial collapse and disasters like what has happened in Flint. Unfortunately this ‘decentralisation’ took on a life of its own with the Scotland vote for independence with Alex Salmon playing up the myth that Scotland was held back by England and if Scotland were given the ability to set taxes then it would be able to be competitive, create jobs and support this giant welfare state that the SNP ran its campaign on. The problem in the case of Scotland is that it ignores the fact that businesses and rich people will simply play England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland off against each other in a vicious race to the bottom but that is something that is never actually mentioned by those who talk about the virtues of decentralisation but never the pitfalls. You’d think that the situation of tax havens and off shore bank accounts between countries might have woken many people up to what happens when you don’t harmonise your tax systems but alas here we are with a race to the bottom.
Now going back to the US, the whole situation in Flint has been the result of decades of decline as manufacturing has been outsourced overseas combined with people moving from the city thus leaving a shell of what once used to stand meaning it was close to becoming the next Detroit. What it almost shows is what happens when you don’t have the sort of state wide cross subsidies when it comes to delivering necessities where as in the case of Flint you have a poor city made worse by the fact that necessities such as water, education aren’t funded at the state level but rather the city level meaning you have institutionalised poverty – the rich areas remain rich, the poor areas remain poor with little hope for the poor areas to raise themselves out of the situation other than hoping that the city becomes trendy to upper class hipster who want to setup microbreweries, software boutiques etc.
There is also the other problem, people just stop caring when the decentralisation and democratisation gets to the point that people just don’t want to care about the minutia of detail such as the move in New Zealand to have elected health boards which came about on this belief that by having community representatives picked from the community would be better at addressing the needs of that said community. What actually happened? the net result were people overwhelmed by the number of candidates, the lack of information about each candidates and the obvious question “why can’t you just make the damn thing work” so the net result were people just going down and ticking off the top x number of candidates. How did they find that out? because the names were listed in alphabetical order so if you had a name starting with A then you’re more likely to get voted rather than it being a genuine example of voter participation. Maybe the better solution would have been to turn many of the regions into super city councils then hand over the functions of the DHB to these super city councils so you’d get the benefits of a more responsive health system but without the ‘issue’ that I outlined (not to mention the economies of scale to be able to make infrastructure investment) along with maybe pushing more functions down such as state housing being administrated by the super city councils which would consolidate the state house and council housing under a single administration whilst keeping the funding centralised so that there is sufficient cross subsidising between various regions.