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March 09, 2015

In Boston politics, this winter will be defined by the blizzard barrage and abysmal performance of the MBTA under the pressures of record breaking snow.  The winter of our discontent has brought forth an important discussion over the role of public service in governmental resource allotment and the relative efficacy of privatization.

This high-falutin conversation features terms like public service management, efficiency, transparency, neoliberalism, and empowerment.  These are defining governmental debates and, as I have argued previously, the biggest difference between Governor Baker and for Governor Patrick’s administrations is not that the former is anti-government and the other pro.  Rather, it is that Baker believes government is best when it emulates the private market.  Governor Patrick saw government as a place where individuals could come together and form a community greater than themselves to the benefit of the Commonwealth.

It’s all a little esoteric. Asked differently: do you wanna have a parade?

Recall that our “real winter” got real serious after the blizzard following the Pats unlikely superbowl victory.  There was considerable public debate and consternation over whether or not the parade should happen and whether it was an efficient use of resources when so many roads remained buried.  More recently, in what we all hope is the bookend to this winter, Mayor Walsh and South Boston officials are investigating if the St. Patrick’s Day parade can move forward as planned given the snow and ice pack on much of the parade route. 

Confession:  I did not think the Pats parade should have occurred during the week (have it on the weekend even if many players were gone) and, as South Boston resident who walks my dog on the parade route, I am none too confident it is worth having it on the planned date.

But there is a broader metaphor here.  Was it efficient to hold the Pats parade and divert plows to the Back Bay? No. Is it the most cost-effective use of public services to send additional resources to Southie as many other neighborhoods have streets that are equally impassable?  Probably not.

But public service motivation reminds that there is more to government and the delivery of governmental services than pure, cold efficiency.  Sometimes you do things and allot resources because it feels good and uplifts the community at-large.  For right or wrong, watching the Pats parade on TV, or knowing that the rite-of-springtime St. Patty’s Day parade is going on, just feels good.  

We must make sure that the resources diverted come from all Boston’s neighborhoods -- not just less affluent communities. But with this substantial caveat in place, and despite my previous skepticism, I say, “on with the parade!”  

Sometimes government acts best when it acts inefficiently – and making ourselves feel better about this winter is something all of Boston needs.

Éirinn go brách.

St. Patrick's Day parade, #BOSnow, neoliberalism;, Charlie Baker, Marty Walsh

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