Sunday, February 19, 2012

This Is What Collapse Looks Like

Welcome to the 'small government' libertarian future:
ONE county jail here is so crowded that some inmates sleep on the floor, while the other county jail, a few miles down the road, sits empty.

There is no money for the second one anymore.

The county roads here need paving, and the tax collector needs help.

There is no money for them, either.

There is no money for a lot of things around here, not since Jefferson County, population 658,000, went bankrupt last fall. There is no money for holiday D.U.I. checkpoints, litter patrols or overtime pay at the courthouse. None for crews to pull weeds or pick up road kill — not even when, as happened recently, an unlucky cow was hit near the town of Wylam.

“We don’t do that any more,” E. Wayne Sullivan, director of the roads and transportation department, said of such roadside cleanup.

This is life today in Jefferson County — Bankrupt, U.S.A. For all the talk in Washington about taxes and deficits, here is a place where government finances, and government itself, have simply broken down. The county, which includes the city of Birmingham, is drowning under $4 billion in debt, the legacy of a big sewer project and corrupt financial dealings that sent 17 people to prison.

If you want to take a broad view, the trouble really began with the Constitutional Convention of the State of Alabama in 1901. The document that emerged there — written to empower business interests and disenfranchise African-Americans and poor whites — gives towns and counties little authority over local issues. Local taxing power rests with the state, though state lawmakers are loath to wield it today, in an age of anti-tax populism. Last summer, the Supreme Court of Alabama struck down a tax that was a crucial source of revenue for Jefferson County, finally pushing the county over the brink.
Jefferson County, Alabama Falls Off the Bankruptcy Cliff (New York Times)

This is one county in Alabama, but expect this story to repeated on the state, and then the national level over the next decade. We're going to end up like Russia 1990, Argentina 2000 or Greece 2012 before you know it.

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