Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cheap Versus Free

An article in the current issue of New Yorker magazine by the insightful author Malcolm Gladwell discusses eloquently the difference between something that is cheap and something that is free.

Here's a hint; the difference is huge!
Gladwell first points up the problem with the rapid demise of traditional newspapers, which too long relied upon a business model that no longer applies.
As a result, people now rely upon free information from the Internet instead of buying newspapers that are quickly dated by fast-happening events.
News now costs little to nothing, but lost in this decline is the ability to even create in-depth news reports!
That sounds like a mixed bag to me.

Another example is the fast diminishing cost of producing transistors for use in electronic equipment of all types.
This trend does reduce the costs of electronics, but also the profitability of the very companies responsible for their R&D and production.
Another mixed bag.

But, the parallel I want to make is about taxes and the public services they provide for.
Everyone is as concerned with value received for taxes as they are with their own incomes, because the two are directly related.
And, there is no certain litmus test for determining who 'owns' this issue.
It isn't only rhetoric for political parties to bicker about.
It is a real social and economic issue that impacts everyone.

That brings me to the subject of the 'TEA Parties'.
Born of frustration and desperation for political traction, the deservedly diminished Republicans have seized upon taxes, yet again, to attract public attention and more importantly, public passion.
Even with the terrible economic climate -largely caused by irresponsible R spending on Iraq, the Wall Street bail-out, etc. - and the serious City budget crisis, they are willing to go there again!
Why, it's a wonder the words don't wither in their throats!

Do you think the R-TEAs see this as their best chance to whack the local 'guvmint' again while its already down, thereby paring services and programs they have resisted all along?
Things like Parks, Museum, Library are sitting ducks right now, not to speak of slimming down those over-staffed and over-paid Fire & Police Departments.
While being out of power, the Rs will be claiming a major victory by slashing the City's budget AND its services.
How about that for a strategy?

But, wait.
Remember the difference between cheap and free?
When things are free, people flock to get their share, plus maybe a little more.
Just being cheap won't work when something can be had for free.

Breaking news:
Nothing is free!
Especially those things that are valued cannot be provided with zero revenues.
Like water, we will know its cost when the well is dry.

So, let's don't go there.
Don't even think about it!
Keep the things that are necessary and carefully pare down those that are only 'desirable' for quality of life.
These times will pass and better times will come again.

Listening to the siren call of the TEA Party crowd is a loser for this town and most people already know that.
If we opt for 'free' and do not expect to pay for things that we need or want, we will lose them.
It is just that simple.
Read the New Yorker article, then draw your own conclusions on this.

Last time I checked, the average home-ownwer's annual General Fund costs for City services was about $500, excluding the Greenways Levy which was voluntarily passed by the voting publc.
That seems pretty reasonable to me.
At least that's my opinion.