Friday, October 26, 2007

Can't Someone Else Do It

This one has been kicking around since the summer ....

I had just recently watched the season 9 episode of the Simpsons, Trash of the Titans, when it occurred to me that the episode was quite emblematic of both my generation and the problems society faces today.

Before I go on, let me briefly describe the episode. Simpson aficionados will remember that this was the episode in which Homer runs for Springfield Sanitation Commissioner and is elected on a platform of "Can't someone else do it," promising that the garbage men can do a better, cleaner, and more thorough job. When Homer is elected, he buys new garbage trucks and new uniforms, and the garbage men go about the business of doing all the dirty work that the townspeople don't want to do. Unfortunately, Homer blows his entire years budget in one month, leading to more comedic chaos. Homer initially solves the garbage situation by allowing other towns to dump their garbage in Springfield's abandoned mine, but this results in the town becoming an unstable toxic waste dump. That problem is solved when the town relocates just a few miles down the road.

I'm sure most of us can see the over the top environmental message, but what's far more interesting to me (and something that I missed when I first saw the episode back in high school) is the relationship of people to their government. Homer wins the election because he literally promises garbage service on a silver platter, but his plans and promises bear no resemblance to budgetary realities. And to top it all of, Homer asks, "can't someone else do it?," reflecting a growing pattern of Americans looking to government to take care of us- to do the grimy, dirty, and difficult work we don't want to have to worry about.

I thought about this episode in reference to the concerns over rising college and health care costs. More and more middle class Americans don't want to pay these costs out of pocket- rather, they cry out, "can't someone else do it!" The analogy isn't perfect, but just like keeping our garbage cans clean, shouldn't health care and college costs be the responsibility of individuals, not government.

Of course, with garbage, it seems obvious that we can all take care of our own messes. Some may argue that health care and college have become so prohibitively expensive that middle class Americans just can't afford them anymore and on one hand I'd agree because market forces in both cases have been interfered with by the government to such a ridiculous extent. And more government involvement doesn't make things cheaper. To me, the real issue is that of priorities- is college an investment that is worth it and how highly do you value your health care? (If you live in a nice house or drive a nice car, yet complain about the affordability of health care, clearly you value your house and your car more than health care - And not that there's anything wrong with that, to each his own. Just don't try and complain that someone else ought to pay for your health insurance or for your kids to go to college.)

Finally, just one point on the environmental message of the episode- this wasn't an evil corporation that polluted the town, it was the town government itself. Only government could be so bloated and inefficient, yet powerful enough to pollute an entire town.


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