Is Racism to Blame for the Flint Water Crisis?


At first glance, the charge that many progressives and folks on the left are making in regards to where blame should lie for the Flint Water Crisis seems preposterous.  That certainly was my first gut reaction to the claim that racism was the culprit.  After some thought, though; it isn’t exactly all that far-fetched.

The point of those making this claim is that Governor Rick Snyder (who is white) didn’t care to deal with the problem because Flint is a 60% black city.  Of course, it is ridiculous to claim that “white people” are to blame for what is clearly a failure of government’s monopoly control of the supply and distribution of water.  However, the idea that had Flint been a majority white city this wouldn’t have happened is not entirely outside the realm of possibility.

When a good or service is provided by a monopoly, that monopoly is free to provide poor quality and to make arbitrary decisions without regard to cost or consequence.  When people have no choice but to pay for the service they provide, and when those responsible are able to claim plausible deniability, why wouldn’t they willingly disregard a known problem for the simple reason that those affected are poor blacks with little to no political power?

Again, blaming “white people” in general is absurd.  Accusing a government of making racially charged decisions with its monopoly powers is less so, but still misses the larger point.  The entire concept of public goods is a fallacy.  For necessities like water to be effectively and efficiently distributed, private property ownership is a must.  Profit & loss and price systems must be allowed to do their work of incentivizing the utilitarian use of scarce resources.

As Murray Rothbard so eloquently put it,

“One would not think it difficult for scholars and laymen alike to grasp the fact that government is not like the Rotarians or the Elks; that it differs profoundly from all other organs and institutions in society; namely, that it lives and acquires its revenues by coercion and not by voluntary payment.”

This is the fundamental argument against government monopoly control of necessary services and against the existence of the state entirely.  The state does not have to worry about losing customers, making losses, or any severe negative consequences.  It is free to ignore problems for as long as possible, and to drag its feet once the problem becomes a mainstream issue. It is free to pass the blame from one bureaucracy to another, and still force people to pay for the service even before the problem has been resolved. While regular people are worrying about their children getting cancer, the politicians and bureaucrats in charge stay collecting their exorbitant salaries and sitting in their fancy offices.

Far beyond any fault of racism, the government is to blame. This problem began years ago as the local Flint government spent itself into bankruptcy. Then, when the state government took control of Flint’s finances, it did its best impression of the Washington Monument Syndrome, and chose water supply as their opportunity to cut spending. Imagine a restaurant that gives food poisoning to a bunch of customers, and then as a solution they cut their quality control department – the idea is ludicrous.  But this is just what the state does.

With the restaurant, the people would have the power to take their money elsewhere. With government, the people’s only avenue for affecting change is through complaints. The water switch was made in early 2014, and complaints began almost immediately. Two years later, this is only now becoming an issue that’s getting real attention, and a resolution still appears to be miles away. And who is stepping up to the plate to provide actual tangible relief? Private businesses, individuals, and corporations led by progressives’ favorite whipping post, Walmart.

Racism is not to blame. Government monopolies are. The only way to provide a real and permanent solution to problems of this nature is to allow private market actors to provide these necessary services.

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