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Norbert Bufka

Author  ยท  Historian

Lessons from the Flint water crisis

The Flint water crisis can teach us several lessons if we are willing to pay attention to this debacle. The crisis was a tragic mistake that allowed the city to draw water from the Flint River for residential use without proper evaluation.

Common good

The common good is the sum total of the conditions which enable everyone to have the opportunity to freely shape his/her life by responsible action in accordance with moral standards. This common good also leads to a better world. The purpose therefore of any public action or law must be in the pursuit of the conditions which lead to the common good.

State and national leaders all across the country seem far more interested in their own personal goals and reelection rather than the common good. The Flint situation is an example of what happens when the common good is not foremost in planning.

Anti-tax movement

This crisis in Flint also shows the futility of refusing to think of taxes as part of the solution to our social and economic problems. A candidate for public office is taking his life in his own hands if he dares speak of increasing taxes. As a result, three state representatives, including our own Gary Glenn, signed a pledge not to raise taxes during their terms in office.

This refusal to even consider raising taxes is eliminating one of the ways the legislature can balance the budget and provide necessary services to the citizens of Michigan and the  nation. It is time to end this silly posturing and get down to the serious business of running our government properly.

The anti-tax movement has been spawned by a sincere belief, I think, that government is too big, but it fails to provide any way to change the way the government works. For example, during the past eight years, the national debt has doubled, as it did during the George W. Bush and the Ronald Reagan administrations. During the Clinton administration’s second term the budget was balanced and the national debt was being reduced. The increase in our national debt is not the fault of President Obama any more than it was the fault of Bush or Reagan. That responsibility lies squarely on the 535 Representatives and Senators who make laws that would change this increase in the national debt, but they are afraid to and would rather rail against big government and the establishment than deal with the issue.

And yet these are the same people who go crying to the federal government for a bailout when they run into trouble. Gov. Snyder asked for federal help in resolving the Flint problem. Other governors have done the same thing. And they wonder why the federal government is so big.


Another lesson which can be learned from the Flint crisis is that we as a nation are ignoring our infrastructure. It is as if our leaders believe that we can erect buildings, make roads and bridges, create water and sewage lines, and never have to worry about them again. On the contrary, these require constant maintenance, repair and rebuilding, all of which require tax revenue. The Flint crisis is a tragic example of the importance of examining and repairing our infrastructure.

Emergency manager

Another lesson from the Flint situation is the lack of effectiveness of the emergency manager policy. The emergency manager is appointed by the governor for broken financial cities and schools. On the surface, that sounds like a good idea but the reality has taken us to this crisis. The governor must be held responsible for the failure in Flint. The governor has accepted that responsibility and seems to be trying to do something about the Flint water crisis.

Poor decisions

Finally the most important lesson to learn from the Flint situation is that mistakes, poor judgement, and decisions based on saving money will affect thousands of Flint lives for many years in the future even after the water crisis is resolved.  Other decisions and non-decisions are doing the same thing. Already lawyers are promoting lawsuits against the city and state for damages caused to children.

As we think about the upcoming elections later this year, let’s remember who is talking long term and is willing to say we need to raise taxes to pay for the mistakes of the last thirty years when lack of revenue has crippled our infrastructure, our ability to solve problems, and our lack of vision for a better future for all citizens. Otherwise we may look back on the Flint debacle as a minor bump in the road instead of the horrific event it is.


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