The damage of narrow self-interest

These days, it’s everyone for themselves and we all suffer

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

We’re all in this together, right? I’ll pause while you stop laughing.

The 1970s were supposed to be the “Me Decade,” but it seems that what really happened was the emergence of the “Me Generation.” As that generation took power in the halls of government and corporate governance, things have, not to put too fine a point on it, gone directly to hell.

Obviously when painting with a broad brush, you tar many not deserving: I personally know many, many so-called “baby-boomers” who have a more communal attitude and are able to see the big picture beyond their own belly buttons. But speaking in the macro sense, especially on behalf of those born immediately after you, in the macro, you’ve proven yourselves to be, well, kind of a bunch of selfish jerks.

The hints were all there, of course. This was the generation that gloried in platform shoes, silk shirts, and chains before migrating to BMWs and unfettered greed. It was bad enough your selfishness ruined drugs, sex and rock n’ roll back in the day, but now you’re really killing stuff that matters by constantly embracing that whole “me” mantra.

It doesn’t take long to come up with lots of local examples of “me” trumping “we” with lousy long-term results.

In East Marlborough, the “township of no,” self-serving and scientifically bogus wailing and whining have already prevented construction of a needed cell tower — one needed fiscally and for safety reasons.  The township has basically fought to turn Unionville Park into a very expensive empty lot,  and now, it has created the Inn at Whitewing Farms debacle.

Maybe no one liked the idea of giving in to the property owner’s demand that he be allowed to hold weddings on his bed and breakfast property, which is understandable, but sometimes you have to see the big picture. The best thing for the entire community would have been to swallow and take the deal, instead of the neighbors’ stomping their feet like a bunch of 3-year-olds who had eaten too many Lucky Charms.

Now, here’s the outcome: the weddings will be held. No $3,500 in fines. The case goes to the township’s Zoning Hearing Board, which might just decide that weddings are an appropriate accessory use. And even if the ZHB doesn’t rule that way, there’s no indication that the Court of Common Pleas or the Commonwealth Court — where this case is all but certainly headed — won’t rule in favor of the property owner (a better than 50% chance, I’m told by some land use attorneys).

So…the net result: lots and lots of money spent. The possibility that many, many more weddings will be held on the property and it could cause other property owners to discover they, too, have accessory rights.


Over in Kennett Square, we have a similar war going on over lights at the high school football field.

Forget that it’s probable that the high school was there before the houses were and that the lights enjoy technology that focuses much of the light onto the field, not on the neighborhood. Had this been proposed 30 years ago — as it was in many other southeast Pennsylvania school districts — it would have been done without much of a whimper, accepting that a minor inconvenience for a few that benefits many is reasonable.

But, today? Of course not.

In Coatesville, where history never repeats itself — except at least once every few years — the brain surgeons in city government thought that cutting the city police force would be a good idea. Nevermind that the last time this happened, the city experienced an arson scourge.

Well, the police force has been slashed again and suddenly the homicides are piling up. Once again, a county District Attorney, this time Tom Hogan, is calling for the hiring of more cops on the street. City Council is vowing to add some part-timers, foolishly insisting that cops with no investment or stake in the city are just as effective as full-timers.

To be fair, some of the blame for fewer cops on the street falls on the knuckleheads in Congress and the State Legislature, but from here, it doesn’t seem like City Council has much in the way of urgency and doesn’t seem to have fought particularly hard to keep police on the street.

Instead of doing the right thing and fighting for it, we do the easy thing and then point fingers when it doesn’t work. Or worse.

Let’s talk about voter fraud.

Certain elected officials in these parts have thumped their chests about how terrible this issue is. How pervasive the problem is. It’s so bad, they said, we need to spend some $11 million to stomp it out. We need to force people to get picture IDs to vote, like state-issued drivers’ licenses.

Except there’s this little problem: according to the Republican National Lawyers Association, not exactly some left-wing advocacy group, there have been 12 cases of voter fraud in Pennsylvania since 1999. Twelve.

That’s just under a million bucks per case. Mmmm. Effective spending of tax money…your tax money.

Sensing this key need, our pals at the American Legislative Exchange Council wrote some nice legislation, just to save our hard-working elected officials the trouble of actually doing their jobs and making laws, and it passed on a party-line vote and it was signed by Gov. Tom Corbett.

Not shockingly, since the EXACT same law passed in other states has been thrown out by the courts, but the state is now spending big money to try to defend the law in the court, in a Commonwealth Court case that comes to trial later this month.

But it gets better: it turns out this week that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) tells us that some 758,000 legally registered voters don’t have such IDs, more than 22,400 of which live here in Chester County — that’s just over 7% of the county’s registered voters. Yup, you’re paying untold millions to keep people, maybe even you, from being able to vote.

So, while some of the same chatty pols have been bemoaning the “mandate” for the big healthcare hoohah, they’ve similarly imposed an ID mandate. But, wait, the Supreme Court says that’s a tax, so….

Quick, somebody call Grover Norquist to let him know that virtually the entire GOP delegation broke his silly pledge and needs to suffer whatever horrific punishment such pledge breakers get (I’m pretty sure it involves 1980s hair bands like Warrant).

The bottom line: These guys spent a lot of money to keep people from voting, people who tend to vote for Democrats. Not to protect the integrity of the system, but quite the opposite. In fact, the leader of the GOP in the state house, Rep. Mike Turzai, admitted this past week that the bill had little to do with voter fraud and a lot to do with keeping some people from voting, so Gov. Mitt Romney would defeat President Barack Obama in the fall elections.

And yet, these same people will intone gravely about the need for the community to work together. Yup. Many of these guys voted for the midnight pay raise, and, looking to boost their own pensions, nuked our state pension system.

But it worked for them, right? So what if your property taxes are going to go up a few hundred bucks next year (and the year after that and the year after that and so on) thanks to these “Me” votes.

It’s not like you care, right?

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  1. Kate says:

    Agree with all your points, Mike, except perhaps your very first, about who the “selfish jerk” generation is. Turns out, selfish jerks are well represented across many generations. The early Gen-Xers (age 37-48) have been reliably republican since 1996, for example, unlike the mid- and even early-Boomers. The Silent Generation, who one might argue have received as many or more of the benefits of the New Deal and post-war government programs than any other generation, have voted fairly reliably against the party which gave them those benefits.

    Thanks for highlighting the voter ID laws. I hope this will become a front page news story on the site; our residents need to understand the implications of this onerous law well before election day.

    Hey- I have a solution to the imaginary voter fraud problem! Lets ask the republicans to push for a mandatory free National ID card! I can only imagine the howls of protest we’d hear.

    • Mike McGann says:

      On behalf of us Xers (I’m 48), you’re likely right, but I see that more as a sign of cynicism.

      The Voter ID issue is likely to get a lot messier. I find it interesting that no one seems to be concerned about outside groups writing legislation.

  2. Keith Knauss says:

    I’m always concerned when someone uses the phrase “narrow self -interest”. The operation of our capitalist society relies on citizens making decisions according to their own self-interest. Adam Smith’s flash of genius was to see how self-interest could coordinate the activities of millions of independent people, strangers to one another, without anybody telling them what to do. It is as though there were an invisible hand at work producing an orderly society. When I see “narrow” added to “self-interest” it’s usually to denounce a situation or decision with which the author does not agree.
    Whether it be stadium lights, the state pension system, the zoning issue or voter ID I can see defensible positions on both sides of the issues. While the editor is free to express his position on the issues in a clearly labeled editorial piece, I’d much rather see logical arguments without resort to pejorative terms such as “narrow self-interest”, “unfettered greed” or “selfish jerks”.

  3. Turk182 says:


    Nice job proving his point. Well played.

  4. Observing says:

    12 cases of voter fraud means 12 cases of prosecuted voter fraud. The mere fact that the State Police pulled over and ticketed 12 people for speeding on Route 1 through Kennett this morning doesn’t mean that those were the only 12 who actually sped. Talk to anyone who works in a polling place – especially in polling places that serve college populations home many out-of-state peope come in to case votes that must be counted. The process for challenging is damn near impossible to overcome. $11,000,000 is chump change to have confidence in the vote.

    • Paul Horan says:

      That Chump Change you refer to comes out of the mouths of the poor and we are cutting education. It does not seem right to spend $900,000 per violation we only spend $5,000 per year on each student. You have your priorities out of whack. If we do not educate our young we can not support a democracy. Just for your information, these are the totality of convicted persons in PA since 1999.:
      Ashley L. Clarke: registration buying and voter impersonation (2009)
      Alexis Givner: voter impersonation (2009)
      Mario Grisom: vote fraud (2009)
      Eric Lee Jones: vote fraud (2009)
      Eric Eugene Jordan: vote buying (2009)
      Latasha Leann Kinney: voter impersonation (2009)
      Bryan Williams: vote fraud (2009)
      Jemar Barksdal: voter registration fraud(2008)
      Peggy Bouras: vote fraud (1999)
      Craig Cummons: absentee ballot fraud (1999)
      Shirley Hughes: vote fraud (1999)
      Austin J. Murphy: vote fraud (1999)

      • Observing says:

        Read my post again. Conviction and violation are not the same thing.

        • Paul Horan says:

          One makes decision on rational facts and not imaginary numbers. Otherwise we would spend $11million to prevent any number of other imaginary violations. The conviction vs violation argument a bogus scare tactic to justify implementation of a system that is unneeded. Remember we are trying to cut spending to balance the budget.

  5. Brian says:

    It is clear of your political idealogy leans hard Left.
    I am sure you are upset on how we simple people, can’t understand what a good job the POTUS is doing.
    Having an ID to vote….what a strange concept????

  6. Tilda tally-ho says:

    Two great minds think alike! 🙂

  7. Vidya Rajan says:

    Trenchant article, Mike.
    You left out redistricting, though, which also contributes to tweak election results.
    When everyone pulls for their narrow self-interest, the fabric of society does tend to fray, doesn’t it.

    • Paul Horan says:

      Redistricting is a short term Republican Fix to stay in power. Be patient the drums are beating. 80% of minorities (Latinos, black etc) are not registering Republican and by 2040 the non-latino whites will be in the minority. Read the reasons below:

      America hit a demographic milestone last year, with new census figures showing for the first time more than half the children born in the U.S. were minorities.

      That percentage just barely eked over the halfway mark, with minorities making up 50.4 percent of U.S. births in the 12-month period ending July 2011. But it marks a steady trend — minorities represented 37 percent of births in 1990.

      As a whole, the nation’s minority population continues to rise, following a higher-than-expected Hispanic count in the 2010 census. Minorities increased 1.9 percent to 114.1 million, or 36.6 percent of the total U.S. population, lifted by prior waves of immigration that brought in young families and boosted the number of Hispanic women in their prime childbearing years.

      The numbers also serve as a guide to where taxpayer dollars could be going in the coming decades. With minority populations growing faster than white populations, robust minority population centers are sure to increase in electoral heft in the coming decades.

      “This is an important landmark,” said Roderick Harrison, a former chief of racial statistics at the Census Bureau who is now a sociologist at Howard University. “This generation is growing up much more accustomed to diversity than its elders.”

      But a recent slowdown in the growth of the Hispanic and Asian populations is shifting notions on when the tipping point in U.S. diversity will come — the time when non-Hispanic whites become a minority. After 2010 census results suggested a crossover as early as 2040, demographers now believe the pivotal moment may be pushed back several years when new projections are released in December

      Read more:

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