The Truth About Flint, Michigan

“Somebody needs to go to jail for this, man,” Flint resident Pete Nichols told Michigan’s MLive. “They’re poisoning an entire community.”

“A generation of kids will never recover from this. And it’s all just to save a few dollars. They played a game of chess with our lives and we lost.”

Yes. Today, we’re going to tackle the Flint water crisis.

Before we do, though, let me tell you about what happened to me this morning.

I had a dream…

In this dream, I was living in a utopia where every single cent of government spending went to its perfect place. And every single regulation protected all the good people from all the evil people in the world.

And all the baddies were ideologically disgusted by the unlimited power afforded to all the “goodies” in the government.

Instead, the evil ones spent their days spread out, wiling away alone in secret caves, far away from the good guys and the haphazardly helpless proles the good guys protected.

The baddies hatched diabolical plans that were, just for emotional tension, foiled at the very last moment by the gracious hands of the government.

Ah, what a world. Where all of my needs were taken care of without me having to lift a finger. What a world. Where my right for a “safe space” was taken seriously by my “representatives.” What a world. Where I am so equal with everyone else that no one is different.

Equality won so hard in this world that we were all beautiful…

See?

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BZZZZZZZZZZZZ BZZZZZZZZZZ BZZZZZZZZZZZ

Then, my alarm went off.

After taking care of my morning business, I opened up my laptop. And I was greeted with a picture of another nightmare: the real world…

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We’ve held off on saying anything about Flint, Michigan. We’re wise enough these days to let the dust settle before we jump to conclusions.

Unlike, of course, those who instantly jumped on an opportunity to turn this into a partisan issue.

As soon as the news broke that Flint’s water supply was filled full of lead — and that it had poisoned at least 2 percent of Flintians — some, miraculously, without even looking at the evidence, already knew the root cause…

Evil spending cuts.

In March 2013, in an effort to save money for the flat broke city, the city council voted to stop buying Detroit city water and to instead treat water from Flint River, while they waited to be hooked up to the Karegnondi Water Authority. 

On April 25, 2014, they raised their lead-filled glasses in celebration.

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Yes. The switch to using water from the Flint River in an effort to save money is what started this crisis. But to say it — or austerity in general — is the cause is missing the true problem.

But we’ll get to that in a moment.

Of course, this crisis immediately became a partisan issue. Because that guarantees that nothing gets done and nobody gets held accountable.

Michigan, as you know, is governed by Rick Snyder, a Republican. Because he’s Republican, to no one’s shock, the Left accused the governor of being racist because Flint is 57% black.

What they failed to mention, though, is that the decision to seek a more efficient, cheaper water supply wasn’t made by Snyder. But by an emergency financial manager, Ed Kurtz, who is a Democrat. Also, the city council approved the idea. State treasurer Andy Dillon — also a Democrat — signed off on it.

But Democrat or Republican… it doesn’t matter. That’s not the point.

Nor is it, again, that the government looked for ways to cut costs. (One real question is why they were so desperate to cut costs. But we’ll get to that.)

The point is that, at every level, government incompetence and negligence is responsible for what has happened in Flint, Michigan.

Not even a month after Flint made the switch, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), an agency responsible for upholding EPA water standards, received several complaints from concerned citizens about the quality of the new water.

Residents were told, despite the weird smell and look, that it was safe to drink. More complaints filed in regardless. Some residents reported that the water was causing rashes and hair loss.

The MDEQ said they tested it, and same thing. It’s safe. Drink up.

In Sept. 2014, five months after the switch, the water tested positive for coliform bacteria — indicating that pathogens of fecal origin were likely present. Three boil advisories within 22 days were implemented.
In Oct. 2014, General Motors announced that the water was too corrosive to build cars with.

You’d think that would set off some alarm bells. The city’s response? It dumped more lime in the water to reduce hardness.

Keep drinking, citizens. Nothing to see here.

In Jan. 2015, high levels of trihalomethanes (THM) were detected in the water — chemical compounds known to cause liver, kidney or central nervous problems. And are also known to increase the risk of cancer.

Officials noted that the water was safe for a majority of residents. Only infants, the elderly and those with weak immune systems should beware.

Come to find out, the EPA knew as early as April 2015 that the population was at risk for lead contamination. Instead of doing anything about it, they sat on the evidence, bickered amongst themselves and stayed quiet.

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It took an independent investigation by a Virginia Tech professor, Marc Edwards, and a plea from Hurley Medical Center Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha — after discovering elevated levels of lead in the blood of Flint’s children — to get officials to take the serious problem seriously.

Predictably, now that everything is out in the open, instead of working together for a solution and admitting the roles they played, local officials are shifting the blame onto the emergency financial planner.

They claim they played no formal role in the decision to use the Flint River. The emergency manager is refuting this claim, saying that the decision was made before he arrived on the scene.

Let the blame-game begin.

OK. You know what time it is. It’s beat a dead horse time!

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In our humble opinions…

With private, decentralized ownership of water supplies, there would be greater incentive to maintain a more robust system and to allocate resources more efficiently and effectively.

Since this will be the private company’s primary focus, it goes with little doubt, in our minds, that they could’ve done a better job. (Without as many snakes in chef hats in the kitchen, they would have more control to… you know… do what they know how to do.)

Moreover, a private system could’ve provided cleaner water at a cheaper price — as Flint residents already pay some of the highest water bills in Michigan. (Bonus points: private water suppliers wouldn’t be able to threaten to take resident’s children away if they fail to pay their bills for poisoned water. Which is, according to some residents, what’s happening. Reason? “Child endangerment.” Puh.)

At the very least, if Flint were given the freedom to choose an alternative, this crisis could’ve been averted. Or, at least, severely diminished. Because an alternative would already be in place.

Aside from idiotic government monopolies, there’s another looming problem…

When it comes to America’s failing cities, it’s all a matter of public priorities.

Unaffordable public sector unions come first over failing schools, crumbling roads, rickety bridges, degenerating emergency services… and corroding water pipes. (Flint’s pipes haven’t been changed for nearly a century.)

Flint, you see, has 1,900 government retirees. They outnumber city employees three to one. Within the city’s general fund, pensions and retiree health care dominate 32 cents to every public dollar spent.

According to a study co-authored by Eric Scorsone, a Michigan State University economics professor, in 2011, unfunded legacy costs stood at a whopping $1.1 billion — or nearly $11,000 per Flintian.

“If Flint were to pay the more than $74 million a year,” Pat Shellenbarger wrote back in 2011 in Michigan’s Bridge magazine, “Scorsone estimated it should to fully fund its legacy costs, it would have nothing left for basic city services. It could not afford one tank of gas for a police cruiser, nor one dime of payroll for a single employee.”

Another important point: Had a private water provider done this, they would undoubtedly face financial retribution — and possibly criminal charges.

An outside, objective agency would be conducting the investigation and the owners and investors would suffer.

“Government failures however,” a press release from the Libertarian Party of Michigan reads, “affect everyone. Michigan is being sued by Flint residents. Any penalties awarded will come out of tax dollars from the state residents, including those residing in Flint. They will be paying for the damage caused by others. Will government officials be held accountable?

“Although the Attorney General is investigating,” the release goes on, “it is essentially an internal audit as one branch of the government is reviewing another. The federal EPA is also forming an investigation, but they had advanced warning of this also, and did nothing at the time. An independent review of the missteps in this debacle would be more credible.”

The Libertarian Party of Michigan calls for an independent investigation. And we support this decision. Moreover, “Any officials found to be negligent should be fired and prosecuted,” they write, “but unfortunately most have immunity from legal action.”

The #FlintWaterCrisis,” Robby Soave writes on Reason.com, “is not a blueprint for what would happen if libertarians abolished government and let poor people drink poisoned water, as some enemies of free markets are no doubt claiming.

“Instead, it’s a great example of government failing to efficiently provide even the most basic of public services due to a characteristically toxic combination of administrative bloat and financial mismanagement.”

Indeed.

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Until tomorrow,

Chris Campbell
Managing editor, Laissez Faire Today

[Quick housekeeping note: Yesterday, you received an email from me titled “Alert: Credit Card Scam.” In it, I mistakenly said that 200 million RFID chips were “sent out” in 2015. As one astute reader, Jim W. pointed out, this is incorrect. The 200 million figure represents the number of cards with RFID chips that are still in circulation. That said, if you still have an RFID chip in one of your credit cards (or, for that matter, in your passport), it’s incredibly easy for thieves to gather that information from you. Literally all they have to do is pass by you on the sidewalk with a smartphone. Our apologies for any confusion.]

P.S. Have something to say? Say it! Chris@lfb.org.

Chris Campbell

Written By Chris Campbell

Chris Campbell is the Managing editor of Laissez Faire Today. Before joining Agora Financial, he was a researcher and contributor to SilverDoctors.com.