On the one hand, as short-sighted as these promises were, they were promises:
Yes, I know that this was often bad politics, not sound public stewardship. But we have to treat decisions made by elected officials as, well, decisions made by the citizens of those locales. If the citizenry can demand to renege at any time because they don’t like the outcome, government can’t function at all -- not even the bits we like, like police and roads.A perfectly rational opinion...assuming there's a tax base to support these civic obligations. What happens when the workers of today decide they're not to be impoverished by the over-the-top promises of yesterday?
There is, in the end, a limit to how tightly past taxpayers, or their representatives, can bind the citizens of the future. It is a genuine tragedy that people who worked hard for the city of Detroit for 30 years should lose pension benefits. But that doesn’t mean that the city of Detroit should turn off the streetlights and get rid of schools and ambulance service in order to fund those lost pensions. And it’s hard to argue that the taxpayers of other places are morally obligated to step in.If there's one lesson I've learned about my (fruitless) argument for entitlement reform, Washington and/or Americans will exhaust every avenue to avoid the problem until it's at our doorstep. It's unthinkable that Detroit would sell its art collection to pay for pensions...until it's thinkable.
But how much should cities have to cut, once the tax base is exhausted? Senior centers? Parades? Maintenance at city parks? We’d better start asking those questions, because pretty soon, we’re going to need to answer them.