My Dad has a theory to sum up all the changes he’s seen in his life, which started in the Great Depression. It is “The General Inflation of Everything”. His basic premise is that everything has gotten bigger, more expensive, and more involved than it was when he was young.
What does he mean by this? I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with no less than four friends and acquaintances over the last week regarding the topic of what we expect from our government. It naturally comes up with respect to the I-35W bridge collapse and how we intend to pay for it – and the other transportation projects we have in Minnesota. The basic problem is one of expectations, because we have been treated to highways that are forever free-flowing and built to the very highest and best standards that our engineers can imagine.
Naturally, the demand for roads has only increased along with the population and the greater reliance on cars. So we have wider highways and more of them. On top of this, the standards for The Very Best™ in roads is constantly “improving” as well. Roads now include landscaping, noise barriers, and ever wider lanes. We have been constantly demanding more from roads and more of them. Thus they are bigger and far more expensive than anyone ever realized.
Most of what happened here in Minnesota is that we are a very wealthy people. As such, we not only demand the best but have generally given up the tax revenue to make The Very Best™ possible. The government that protects and provides for us has kept up with demands, ratcheting them up one more notch for the next generation.
The most fundamental expectation is one of constant improvement. This is a certain kind of “Progressive” behavior, where “progress” is something that is easily defined in the world around you. It is all about expectations, or the simple belief that we deserve The Very Best™ that anyone can imagine anywhere.
This game of expectations is at the core of “The General Inflation of Everything”. Each generation wants more and more, bigger and better, stronger and faster. Feed that attitude with the treasure of the richest empire ever known, and it only becomes more hungry. That is what it has done up until now, even as it has become something like Mr. Creosote in “Monty Python’s the Meaning of Life”.
At some point, the expectations that demand The Very Best™ are nothing more than a Bigger, Better Deal, albeit in the guise practiced by politicians. Like any con, there comes a point where reality sinks in and the ones who made out early have to skip town. While we’ve had two full generations of “The General Inflation of Everything”, especially when it comes to the roads that government provides as a service to the Middle Class, it is likely coming to a screeching end.
Will other aspects of government see the same crunch? Will education and other basic services have to scale back? Stay tuned.