Wednesday, March 23, 2005

THE COST OF CENTRALIZATION

(An oldie from my files, dating back to 1996, but still applicable)

Forty years ago, the inhabitants of the small fishing villages of
Newfoundland were forced to move into larger centres. The government claimed the move was necessary because the costs of social services were "too expensive to administer in isolated areas". Today, the provincial and federal governments are shutting down schools, hospitals and post offices in small communities across Canada. The reason? These facilities are "too expensive" to maintain. Villagers say these shut-downs are the final death-blow to their communities, which may well be true.
However, no one ever looks at the costs of centralization. Consider how much tax money has been expended during the last four decades cramming people into a half dozen large cities. Such concentration is not done for free. In the first place, it is necessary to extend sewage, garbage and water systems, police and fire protection, sidewalks and street lighting. Rural and village folk have their own wells and septic systems, volunteer fire departments, no sidewalks, few street lamps and little need (or want!) for the police. The costs of providing these services to the expanded urban areas runs into many thousands of millions of dollars. The growing urban population had to be moved to and from work, requiring the extension of transit systems and the building of expressways requiring countless dollars.
The cost of social breakdown has to be included, since big city people are at least twice as likely to suffer from mental, social or family problems than rural people. Crime is at least 3 or 4 times greater in the major urban areas. Both these problems cost us a fortune annually. Then there are the environmental problems created by vast population concentrations and the inevitable pollution caused by motor vehicles. As any environmentalist will tell you, these costs are astronomical.
Left to "private" capital, the new urban infrastructure and all the "experts" beloved "projects" would have never been built, since all of these are too costly and not profitable. (Virtually all such developments have required constant government subsidy to continue operation.) The state- sponsored building programs were also a job magnet, attracting rural workers to the cities, who then stayed on as part of the expanding population. And without the state-built expressways, there would be few suburbs and little "urban sprawl" that has eaten into our farmland. For utilities to pay a decent dividend, they would have to be based upon cities with high population density. Thus, without the organization and financing of state capitalism, cities would have been both smaller and more compact.
The massive debt load the various levels of government face are partly a result of this state-sponsored centralization process. The money for these projects had to be borrowed and financing was usually arranged through higher levels of government, requiring an increase in federal and provincial debt. Small communities face cut backs because of policies causing a drain of wealth and population to the big cities - a kind of internal imperialism.
The moved toward centralization was backed culturally and ideologically. From the 1920's - when the process really got going - to the late 1960's - when the first rebellious noises were heard - popular culture and the media glorified "bigness" and "expertise" and ridiculed provincial ways. (Can you think of one movie or novel produced during this period which did not denigrate small town or rural life?)

1 Comments:

Blogger Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

I have been to small town Newfoundland. The appeal of such places is strong. If I thought I could make a go ofo it I would gone tomorrow. I recollect the townsfolk in such places being determinedly conformist. At an anniversary I carried a beer with me on a short walk around the darkened neighbourhood. People were scandalized. "If the police come by you'll be fined!" I told them it would give me something good to write about.

10:06 PM  

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