Massie on the Politics of Snow

At The Spectator, Alex Massie refers to snow to illustrate how over-reliance on government can hinder incentives for social cooperation.

Once upon a time and not so very long ago the general public would have cleared the pavements themselves. Indeed, it used to be thought only good manners and a mark of proper, considerate neighbourliness to clear your own patch of pavement. Alas, no longer. It seems as though we now expect councils to do that for us too.

The result? Pavements are not being cleared. This is less a mark of government failure than a collective, unfortunate, decision to rely on government well past the point at which councils can actually deliver a service. Consequently, this dependency demonstrates both a triumph of statism and its failure.

They do things differently in America. When I lived in Washington it was expected that you’d clear your own** bit of sidewalk. Result? The pavements were in better condition than seems to be the case in much, perhaps most, of Britain.

**And not just because the DC council is famously inept.

I’m also happy to note that here in D.C., snow removal has improved considerably over the last decade.

And then there was Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. of Washington, who somehow survived his mishaps with bad weather. In 1987, Mr. Barry was in southern California attending the Super Bowl — getting a manicure and playing tennis at the Beverly Hills Hilton — when a winter storm buried the District of Columbia. The nation’s capital became the butt of ridicule. In 1996, Mr. Barry — who was elected to a fourth, nonconsecutive term in 1994 after serving a federal sentence on cocaine possession charges — was excoriated by residents after it took nearly a week to clear the streets of snow.