My father hated big numbers and thought I was being foolish for wanting a larger operation. In one conversation he made the statement, “My goal for next year is to reduce my expenses by $10,000.” My response was, “My goal is to make more profit.” One result of my father being “penny wise and pound foolish” is that his farm never became large enough to pass onto one of his children.

We see the same thing being played out in government. There are those who constantly want to cut budgets for various reasons. Occasionally it is true some department has become bloated and inefficient but most of the time the motivation is to lower taxes or because of the attitude that government is the enemy and must be reduce to bare necessity.

When austerity-minded leaders come to power, they cut spending, fire employees, don’t fill vacancies, privatize services and then proclaim they have made “progress.” The cost savings they achieve result in numbers that are easily measured, reported, and used in election campaigns. The hardship and suffering resulting from austerity is intangible, hard to see, hard to prove, and easily attributed to other factors.

When foster care supervisors are overloaded and children are abused, the harm goes unnoticed, undocumented, unpunished, undeterred. When trash pickup is cut back, the amount of trash dumped around town increases and how do you measure that? When the state crime lab is understaffed and justice becomes delayed, or when a governor refuses to fund voter-approved programs such as land preservation, resulting in long-term degradation of the state’s natural beauty, can you measure that?

In one year Gov. Janet Mills has accomplished more than the previous governor, Mr. Penny Wise Pound Foolish, did in eight years of anti-government austerity, divisiveness and divestment.


Brad Sherwood


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