Money for Halloween but not for ancient sewers: Is this the 21st century American apocalypse?

The National Retail Federation told us yesterday that the average American plans to spend $66.28 on decorations, food and costumes for Halloween this year, up almost 18% from the $56.31 per person we spent last year.  I learned about it from the always interesting Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter, Teresa Lindeman.  

The same day, the news media also told us of the many mayors who have endured or face recalls from an angry citizenry.  The New York Times report on the trend begins with the truly sad news that the voters of Livingston, a town of 11,000 in central California, booted out the mayor because he pushed through an increase in the water rate, the first one in more than a decade, to fix Livingston’s aging water system. 

Water systems and sewers that municipalities constructed 50, 75 and 100 years ago are now breaking down and must be replaced all over the country.  Our roads and bridges are in dire need of repair.  Mass transit systems continue to pare lines as costs mount.  But all we hear is that we can’t raise taxes.  Most of our politicians are too craven to propose raising taxes, and many, especially Republicans, constantly rail against taxes.

How can we pay for repairing our infrastructure if we don’t raise enough revenues through taxes?  The last 30 years has seen a tremendous drop in the rate of taxes that all Americans pay, with those with the highest income and wealth enjoying the lion’s share of the extra money produced by these tax cuts.  The result: more deficits and fewer government services.  But everyone sure has a great time getting sick on candy and dressing as someone else on Halloween!

Let’s assume that the good people of Livingston (and anywhere else that has a sewer, water or other infrastructure building project on hold because there’s no money) would spend $33 on Halloween instead of $66—maybe made their own costume or decorations, or used last year’s, maybe give less candy, since the kids are going to a lot of houses.

Now let’s say people found a way to cut away $33 in unnecessary expenses every month.  In Livingston, it would probably be enough to fix the water line problems.  But it’ll really be more than $33 for many people, because that $66 per person on average includes people so poor that they don’t spend a penny on Halloween.  Those people, by the way, can usually get help paying their water bill.

The money that goes to taxes instead of Halloween will not leave the hands of American commerce, just be spent repairing infrastructure instead of manufacturing and selling candy, clothes, clothing accessories and paper goods. 

But will it happen?  If it doesn’t, I have this apocalyptic nightmare vision of the future of this country: A bunch of people shivering in outdoor toilets in the dead of winter or in long lines for hours stuffing their faces with candy while they wait for bottled water or to fill their pails at a community spigot about five miles down a road that’s half dirt and half asphalt fragments.

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