America the Cheap


America is a price dominant culture, and we need to take responsibility for that when we complain about bad customer service, poor infrastructure, etc. Certainly American business and political leadership could be better, but they aren’t the ones who decided to shop at Wal-Mart instead of the local store (favoring short term financial gain over long term community loss). Nor are they the ones who force us to vote for politicians promising something for nothing.

This is the subject of my latest City Journal piece, “America the Cheap“:

American politicians understand this. That’s why they frequently promise voters something for nothing, or free stuff with other people’s money. Republicans promise to “eliminate fraud and waste” or to increase government revenues somehow by slashing taxes, or through some other cost-free method. Democrats say that they are going to tax “the rich,” such as when New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio said that he would give all New Yorkers free pre-K education, funded by a special surtax on high-income households (i.e., somebody else).

European social democracies offer extensive government services and generously funded safety-net programs. But these come with high taxes for the average citizen. Few American politicians are willing to advocate explicitly for that. They keep promising citizens a free lunch. And why not? It seems to be what we want to hear: there’s some magic elixir that can transmute lead into gold.

The populists are right that corporate, governmental, and cultural elites have too often let America down, and even sometimes acted disgracefully. But that doesn’t mean that the man on the street is off the hook. Just because someone else is guilty doesn’t mean that we’re all innocent. If populism takes a high view of the ordinary citizen, then it should also recognize the importance of these citizens’ decisions in shaping the world we live in.

Click through to read the whole thing.

Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and an economic development columnist for Governing magazine. He focuses on ways to help America’s cities thrive in an ever more complex, competitive, globalized, and diverse twenty-first century. During Renn’s 15-year career in management and technology consulting, he was a partner at Accenture and held several technology strategy roles and directed multimillion-dollar global technology implementations. He has contributed to The Guardian,, and numerous other publications. Renn holds a B.S. from Indiana University, where he coauthored an early social-networking platform in 1991.

Photo Credit: Mike Kalasnik, CC BY-SA 2.0