Monday, July 30, 2012

The Art of the Possible

I wrote this earlier and posted it somewhere else about someone who was outraged about building the new Vikings stadium instead of spending "the money" on other stuff, but here it is:

Sorry but I think this line of argument is a little bit off the mark, and is a bad way to look at political choices in general.  It's not like there is some magical pot of money out there that can either go to bridges or a stadium.  Rather there's funding streams that could go to the stadium or nothing else.  Remember the City's share of the funding came from dedicated restaurant taxes and such NOT the general fund.  In fact, the State Legislature has always traditionally controlled these funds and said pretty much (and this is both DFL and GOP folks talking) that the money could go to a stadium or nothing at all, fixing bridges or hiring fire fighters simply was never in the cards for the money that's going to the stadium.  The question thus was never should we invest in bridges or stadiums, it always was should the Vikings stay or should they go?  Or perhaps even broadly should the NFL leave resulting in us spending a lot of money (more than the stadium deal) to get them to come back some time in the future (just ask Houston or Baltimore how much fun that was)? Political choices are always defined by the art of the possible and often times political choices can be unfair and limited in what is possible. 

To paraphrase a great post by Matt Yglesias where he was talking about Max Weber's "Ethic of Responsibility" in foreign policy, I'd say a lot of what goes wrong in Minneapolis progressive politics is a refusal to adopt an ethic of responsibility in politics.  That is people want to make the "right" choices regardless of their impact in the real world.  Instead, too many progressives seem to want to orient themselves in a way that expresses a sense of moralized outrage. So if some policy proposal isn't completely pure in all aspects and results that political choice is inherently wrong, because what’s important in City Government is to be on “the right side” in some maximal way.  Anything less is some kind of grand betrayal of our sacred progressive values. The problem is that what’s needed, from the Mayor's and City Council's point of view is public policy that does in fact make conditions in Minneapolis better not an allocation of bonding funds that expresses high ideals and a grand sense of purpose.  Indeed, the history of our City is filled with noble intentions resulting in disaster.  And we see this a lot in Minneapolis politics, people get mad at MPD Chief Dolan because he's not doing enough about police brutality even when the Police Union is always complaining he is going to far.  Or folks want an independent city library system with great services when the real choice is between having open libraries under the Hennepin County system or no libraries open at all.

Corruption and feathering of nests is immoral, but the pursuit of laudable goals in an unrealistic and destructive manner doesn’t help anyone either.

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