Not In My Backyard - The Sequestration Compromise

Over the weekend, Congress did something unique - it acted with haste to fix a problem.  Now, it may be true that the problem was caused by Congress in the first place, but that's just a minor detail.  While the government's sequestration had been in effect for nearly two months, the cuts hadn't yet fully hit the Federal Aviation Administration.  There had been some publicized effects of the cuts, such as early closing of national parks, hiring freezes, and the cessation of White House tours, but none of these touched as many lives as furloughs to the FAA.

The FAA began furloughing air traffic controllers last week, and the effect was almost immediate.  There were flight delays across the country, and airlines were blunt with passengers, letting them know that the delays could've been avoided if there was no sequester.  Almost immediately, the media pounced on the topic and it became a popular topic at dinner tables, cocktail parties, and (of course) social media.

For the previous months, there were frequent stories about how the sequester had not yet affected daily American life and even claims from Republicans that the cuts were overhyped.  However, the effects had been very real for those who couldn't find government jobs, were closed out of national parks, or had been furloughed - the majority of Americans just didn't experience them firsthand, therefore, they didn't have a negative opinion or any opinion of the sequester.  

It was a classic example of the urban planning theory Not In My Backyard (NIMBY), which states that while residents may be in support of the idea of development in their neighborhood, they don't want it affecting their home; a person may think a city needs a new office building to attract jobs, but they don't want it obstructing the view from their own home.  People (Republicans and Democrats alike) generally supported the idea America needs to curb its spending, and we're 100% behind that effort as long as it's not in our backyard.  With at least 48% of Americans traveling by Air each year, there were few backyards that wouldn't have first hand experience with these cuts.

So, faced with dozens of flight delays, countless  angry people/voters, and a brewing media storm, Congress acted quickly.  Before going on recess, they worked to pass a bill to shift money around in the coffers to bring back air traffic controllers and stop the bleeding.  While this very public blemish was quickly concealed with bi-partisan support, it only happened because of the highly visible nature and the people (wealthy voters) it was affecting.  It's easy to see how flight delays not only caused a hassle, but also hurt the economy: business people would miss meetings, tourists wouldn't be spending money in their destination, and people would be more tired and grumpy.  

However, it's shortsighted to think those side effects only result from the FAA furloughs.  There are millions of other dollars being cut, thousands of lives being less publicly affected, and likely a lot of lost economic output as a result.  The FAA furloughs offer us a helpful looking glass through which we should look and understand the ripples across our economy from the sequestration.  I'm not saying that the spending cuts are all bad, but I am saying there are plenty more smaller scale examples where the sequestration is causing headaches and lost productivity.  We would all be served well if our Congress could continue to work in a bi-partisan matter to solve more of those issues, especially right after our GDP growth fell short of what we expected, let alone what we hoped for.

NIMBYism can be a dangerous thing as it pushes problems out of sight and onto those who can't fight for themselves.  At this critical juncture in the American recovery, Congress needs to be sure to understand the wide ranging results of their actions, not just when there's an uproar.