A dozen years ago, when South Korea was in the midst of an economic crisis, citizens lined up to hand over their jewelry to help the country out of its fix. Can you imagine that happening here? It would be unusual anywhere, but we seem to have migrated far to the opposite end of the...
A dozen years ago, when South Korea was in the midst of an economic crisis, citizens lined up to hand over their jewelry to help the country out of its fix.
Can you imagine that happening here?
It would be unusual anywhere, but we seem to have migrated far to the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to a sense of being in it together. Not all of us certainly, but enough have gone that direction to tilt public policy away from investment in the longterm common good.
I don’t think many people doubt the depth of our current economic difficulties. But our reaction seems to be to withdraw, each to protect his own turf.
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The president just signed a tax bill that adds to our collective debt and subtracts from government’s ability to do the things we expect from it at a time when more people need help.
In January, our state legislature will be looking at a budget proposal that cuts painfully into social services, education and health care. Gov. Chris Gregoire, who put the budget on the table, said she hates it. I hate it, too.
At first I thought I was reacting to the specific cuts, but it isn’t just that. It’s what the cuts say about us. Those cuts and the federal tax bill say: “Let someone else sacrifice.” And that someone else is too often the weakest of us.
Is it just heartlessness? I don’t think so. Maybe we don’t all know that no matter how much we may benefit from a tax break today, we’ll lose something, too.
We’ve had reasonable debates about government in the past. How big or small should it be? How much should we spend on it? What should it do, or not do? How do we avoid waste and inefficiency?
But the thread of antipathy toward taxes and suspicion of government that has run through all of American history has thickened into a rope that threatens to choke off functions that keep us strong.
Some of us have forgotten that government matters, that it isn’t an enemy but the main tool of our democracy, and more fundamentally that a nation is more than a collection of individual interests.
A book title caught my eye, “Jobs That Matter: Finding a Stable, Fulfilling Career in Public Service.” It sounds almost 1960s quaint, but the book came out just this year, and there are Americans for whom its message resonates.
When I finished reading about the state budget, I called the author, Heather Krasna. She’s the director of career services at the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington.
Her job is to help students from the school find jobs in government or public service and to help potential employers find people who are a fit for them.
Even now with so many Americans bad-mouthing government she still sees young people eager to sign up. “Everyone is different,” she said, but most of them “Want more than a paycheck from their job; they want to have a sense that they are helping society in some way.”
And some want to work in the public sector because “certain job functions you’re not going to find in other sectors of the economy” — social work, for example, or fisheries biology.
Government fights fires, provides law enforcement and national defense, but it also provides a lot of services taken for granted, she said, services we’d miss if they disappeared. Who else is going to ensure the safety of our water supply, or build and maintain roads?
She profiles 26 workers in the book, including a Bellevue city employee responsible for disaster preparedness, and a federal worker whose job is to help develop small business opportunities.
Krasna said that if she were working on the book now, she’d take the word “stable” out of the title as a description of government jobs. Nothing is stable in this economy, but people are still finding jobs that matter.
The young people she sees are determined to leave a legacy that is measured in more than dollars. I hope their elders haven’t made too big a mess for them to clean up. But I feel better with Krasna’s reminder that community spirit lives. We don’t need to be South Korea, just our own best selves.
Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.