Sidebar to "Polite totalitarianism," Part four

They had a crisis and nobody came



In the Washington, D.C., area early this past year, natural adversity precipitated three "incidental inefficiency" crises within about a 30-day period. During the fierce winter storms, for which Southern cities are never prepared, Washington Gas warned that unless people turned down their thermostats, it would not be able to maintain heating levels. The mayor decreed that any nonessential businesses remaining open on a certain day would be fined $2,000. (Her office supplied the definition of "essential," and it did not include restaurants that fed people who had been unable, because of the ice, to get to grocery stores.) During the same period, the streets and roads remained icy and even impassable for enough days that suburban grocery shelves were sparsely stocked. And shortly afterwards, an improper sedimentation was found in the water supply. That necessitated an exaggerated panic on the part of bureaucrats, which television and radio docilely spread to ordinary consumers. Stores were stripped of spring and sparkling waters in a flash, and hastily scrawled signs appeared all over the city and in the counties adjacent to it: Do Not Drink the Tap Water — on restroom doors; Do Not Drink This Water — over water fountains. In short, within a 30-day period the heart of the monster state experienced shortages of food, water, and heating fuel.

Each crisis passed quickly and without unrest, in part because people retained "faith in the system" and because areas unaffected (at least in the exaggerated impure-water crisis) were able to supply some of the city's needs. More important, however, is the fact that the crises were confined to a small area and were of short duration. Even had we seen that insurrection from which all cities are said to be a mere three days, there was no general dissatisfaction to fuel the spread of any insurrection.

Posted January 16, 2008

Published in 1994, 2008 by WTM Enterprises.
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