Once upon a time there was an island. And on the island there were buses. The buses ran for free almost every day, and they took people – rich, poor, local, visitor, young, old, abled and not so abled — almost everywhere in the island.
”What????” said some private citizen. “You are just GIVING AWAY MASS TRANSIT? What about laziness and self-reliance? What about the rugged individualist who should pay his (and I suppose her) way in life? What about accountability and fees for service and pay to play and all those IDEAS?”
So a local government committee was formed to do a feasibility study for taking money on the buses. To everyone’s surprise, the study that showed that putting in the coin boxes, and the ticket machines, and putting in the surveillance cameras and hiring the surprise ticket police people to check on you unexpectedly like they used do to in LA and Berlin was REALLY expensive.
The committee report ran as follows :
It’s not worth it to make people pay for the bus.
It’s cheaper to let them ride for free.
So the buses continued to run for free as the years went by. Surprisingly, the government subsidies for the buses built up til there was actually something called a surplus. You may have heard of this – it’s when you have more money than you need to do whatever it is you’re doing.
But then something bad happened.
The surplus disappeared and became the opposite. It became no money. It became negative dollars.
What happened to the money, no one knew. Investigations were called for. People accused and defended.
But in the meantime people got fired because there was no money to pay them. These were not the people in charge. These were the other people.
It’ s often the other people who get fired, as you have perhaps noticed.
But life goes on even when you’re fired. The fired bus worker people went to a meeting in a forest to talk with their neighbors about how to live in the forest successfully and carefully. There was a road person and a trees person and a water person and a maintenance person and they all talked and shared and sometimes debated how best to take care of these things in the forest where they lived.
I was there too, because I live in the forest sometimes with a wise man, whom I like quite alot.
The water person talked calmly about the things that needed to be done to keep the water clean and flowing and then they all voted on how to do it.
The wise man whom I live with said to me, “this is what government does. It’s about how to live your life.”
A woman said, “Yes, but we need more leaders. People to take over watching the water and the roads and the maintenance of our forest. And we also may need some money.”
That’s when the fired bus workers began to cry. “We don’t have any money,” they said. They stood in the forest and cried some more but then they explained. “We’re sad not just for ourselves but for the people who need the buses! The buses won’t run the way they did. And making the riders pay for this mistake isn’t fair!”
I stood in the forest with the others. I don’t like being in charge and I don’t think I’m much of a leader.
But if everyone says this, then things like the money disappearing and the people getting fired for no good reason happen.
We stood together in the woods. I looked into the faces of the people who had lost their jobs, and those faces were not numbers and abstractions, but were actually people.
I thought and am thinking about how government needs to help us live our lives.
How we practice politics IS our life.
I just wish it hadn’t taken this meeting in the forest with my fired neighbors to make me realize it.