[SUGGESTION: AN EDITOR’S NOTE RECOGNIZING THAT ELIJAH LIVED IN THE FLINT AREA FOR 6 YEARS AS A CHILD]
It is easy to blame someone or something for the Flint water crisis; the EPA, the tight fingers of state Republicans and the Governor, or the weaknesses of local responses. But the root causes of the Flint water crisis go much deeper. The deplorable water quality in Flint, Michigan is not only indicative of America’s political dysfunction, but results from the public’s overwhelming distrust of an active and responsive government.
After a change in water suppliers, the city of Flint began using the Flint River to supply its constituents with water. The new water supply was far more corrosive than previously, and residents began to complain of its color, rashes and bacteria. E.coli and coliform bacteria were found in the water, there was an uptick in Legionnaires’ disease in the county and dangerously elevated levels of lead were discovered.
It’s largely forgotten today, but purifying local water supplies was the greatest victory for public-health in the 20th century. Between 1900 and 1936, life expectancy increased from less than 50 to over 60 years of age. Economists David Cutler and Grant Miller estimate that approximately half of this increase in life expectancy was due to the betterment of the local water systems.
Leaders during the 20th century acknowledged that for private businesses, profit reigned supreme, sometimes at the expense of the public. The balance between the competitive market and government intervention became known as the mixed model, per economist Charles Lindblom. The mixed model of the 20th century engendered spectacular improvements in health, education and living standards. An active government enabled these dazzling changes to the American condition.
The public outcry for small government over the past three decades has facilitated an environment in which the benefits of an active and involved government are forgotten. The competitive market is a crucial and invaluable part of America’s success, but one must not forget that the private sector of business isn’t inherently concerned with the public’s health. America’s infrastructure, which used to be the envy of the world has crumbled, risking the health, safety and economic success of the nation. When combined with the outdated federal health and safety regulations, it is apparent that our need for an effective mixed economy is greater than ever.
The millennial generation has the ability to push for renewed government action in the public sector. Our generation should realize that the Flint water crisis is indicative of a larger, national problem. Instead of using Flint’s lead poisoning as an excuse to further dismantle government, millennials should highlight the incident as a reason to reinvigorate the government’s ability to care for the health of America.