Did Free Markets Cause the Flint, Michigan Water Disaster?

by Dale Steinreich

In the wake of numerous cases of lead poisoning through Flint, Michigan’s government-managed water supply, some commentators immediately began looking for ways to blame the private sector. Shortly thereafter, David Brodwin of U.S. News and World Report wrote “Flint: The Big Cost of Small Government.”

According to Brodwin, what caused lead-tainted water to gush forth from faucets in Flint were “attacks on investment in public infrastructure and on regulation of all kinds.” For these he blames “right-leaning libertarian interests,” although he does not name a single one.

America, writes Brodwin, has fallen under an “obsession with tax cuts [which] has reduced budgets to the point where they can no longer sustain basic infrastructure.” Attacks on regulation supposedly caused the failure of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to do its job. “Either its staff was buffaloed by those in power, or its professionals had been replaced by political hacks willing to ignore the mission of the agency.” Brodwin does not support these assertions with evidence.

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