Being in the car less, recently, I’ve fallen behind on podcast listening, so the episode of Changing Gears to which I listened while working out last night was a few weeks old. The guys were explaining the various reasons (having to do with materials, labor, and politics) that Rhode Island’s roads don’t last.
Not long afterwards, I was back at the computer and thinking (again) how far Internet technology has come in the past year… when the power went out. All the Zooming, podcasting, on-demand streaming, and other innovations that this viral crisis has made so critical to basic life fell of the table of social organization in an instant. On a clear night, the flow of electricity just stopped.
Growing up, I don’t remember ever losing power when the weather didn’t provide an obvious explanation, and it seems to be becoming more common in recent years. Every time it happens, I can hear a few more generators running, as my neighborhood adapts to this new reality over time.
While the world has been substantially shut down, I’ve also been catching up on reading legislation that managed to receive floor votes. Here’s one to ban disposable plastic shopping bags, and I note the news today that San Francisco has now banned reusable shopping bags to prevent spread of COVID-19. Another bill that didn’t manage to get a vote in the innocent days before the pandemic (House, Senate) would have criminalized the intentional release of balloons into the air.
Yes, while a virus was spreading around the planet bringing death and economic ruin, Rhode Island legislators were pondering a bill titled “Relating to Health and Safety – Balloons.”
Whether we’re talking about the roads or the power grid or the budgetary desperation we’re hearing from our elected officials, the message ought to be clear: Rhode Island has to get back to basics. Stop worrying about balloons. Stop micromanaging the economy. Stop confiscating tax money from people in order to fund superfluous things or pet projects.
This crisis is illustrating the necessity of government for a variety of functions, but it is also proving the need for government to do those critical things well. And that means focusing on them, including a halt to the drain of taxpayer money to things that just shouldn’t be priorities. Both basic government functions and private-sector activity are more important.