Some of my fellow malcontents in our comment section challenged me to defend a line in a recent column by my colleagues, Ted and John: “Illinois is worth fighting for.” P.M. wrote a detailed, thoughtful comment why he thinks it’s not.
So, here goes. Actually, however, you’ll see it kinda depends on how you use the phrase, and I suspect we’re pretty much in agreement.
It’s certainly not that I care about the majority of voters in Illinois. If I believed in hell, I’d believe in a special place for them. And it’s not that I think Illinois government, as we’ve allowed it to function, should be saved from the ash heap of history. It will get there, though that will take a while. I’m a free markets guy, and I get the creative destruction thing.
But this is an exercise in disaster mitigation, and the humanitarian consequences are enormous for many with no culpability. Millions of families have had their home equity confiscated. The mentally ill, developmentally disabled, indigent criminal defendants and many others deserving assistance have been thrown overboard. Decades of unemployment and underemployment have produced immeasurable hardship. The free market sometimes doesn’t work fast enough because of “friction,” economists say. The blood on many Chicago streets is sometimes from innocents. Friction, indeed.
“Just move”? I don’t fault for a minute those who do. All else being equal, I recommend it. Three of my four nieces and nephews, born here, live elsewhere. My son, who just started college, wouldn’t even apply to any Illinois school.
It’s just not practical, however, for many to move. Even if they can, it takes time. The largest group stuck here should be obvious — the underaged, including kids in the slums. Many more simply can’t leave, from little guys to big guys: franchise owners, family farm owners, car repair people who built up reputations for honesty, professionals in partnerships that are hard to undo, beauticians with loyal clienteles, folks with a specialty and a unique employment contract that would be hard to replicate. The list goes on, all the way up to banks that can’t move their charters.
But the biggest reasons why our fight matters go far beyond our borders. Our failure and how we deal with it will set precedent for other broke cities and states not far behind us. “Illinois’ Lessons” should be a book, and be on shelves across the country. Pater Tenebrarum, a commenter here, said:
I am not a resident of your illustrious region, but… I watch the situation unfold from afar. I find it an utterly fascinating case study that has implications that go well beyond Illinois… (another case worth studying in this context is Greece, which is already a few steps ahead of Illinois).
We are dealing with very weighty matters here. Did the Founding Fathers miss something? Is our form of democracy fundamentally flawed? Isn’t this about a flat-out failure of a constitutional republic? Tenbarum was dead right: “The main lesson so far is that it is evidently impossible for the political class to solve this problem.” Yet Illinois voters this month ratified and promoted the same political establishment.
So, maybe I’m thinking about whether Illinois is worth fighting for differently than those who say no. Or maybe Ted and John should have used a slightly different phrase. Maybe they should have said “The fight is worth the fight.”
Whatever. The point is that the fight matters, for profound reasons extending far beyond Illinois.
It’s being waged legitimately in many ways. Emigrants vote with their feet. Nonresidents like Tenbarum absorb our lessons. Ted, John and I do our research and writing here. Actuaries from other states help us expose the myths. An elderly lady who asked me to add that Print button on our articles passes them out in her broke, corrupt suburb. Others are in the trenches, running for office.
I say all of those are on the same side.
Update: This column initially said that I might move out of Illinois, after my youngest is out of high school, though I’d keep up this fight from beyond the border. I no longer have any intention of moving.