Government can't distinguish wants from needs

In the 1979 movie "The Jerk", Navin R. Johnson, played masterfully by Steve Martin, is at a crossroads in life. He's gone from being poor to being incredibly rich, due to an unlikely product he invented. Unfortunately (or fortunately for the viewer) he soon faces lawsuits and bankruptcy as his product causes people to go cross-eyed.

Seeing how he's been poor before, Martin's character talks tough as he's forced from his lavish mansion: "And that's it and that's the only thing I need, is this. I don't need this or this. Just this ashtray. And this paddle game, the ashtray and the paddle game and that's all I need. And this remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that's all I need. And these matches. The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control and the paddle ball. And this lamp. The ashtray, this paddle game and the remote control and the lamp and that's all I need..."

Facing a return to being a poor sharecropper, Navin R. Johnson, talks tough but doesn't want to face the fact that he must now go without some things.

Regrettably, many of today's leaders, and their voters, appear to be having similar difficulties separating needs from wants. Rochester, Olmsted County, many surrounding towns and counties, the state of Minnesota and the federal government are all facing a daunting budget crisis.

Locally, unable to afford to fix roads, fund our schools or put more police officers on the streets, we instead whine about not getting magical money from above (from the next higher-up —still broke — level of government) for such "important" things as yet another expansion of Mayo Civic Center, the, so-called, National Volleyball Center or very regional theaters and arts centers.


We can't afford to staff departments that we formerly deemed as being critical, but yet we can afford to build a Walking Bridge To Nowhere over U.S. 14 West.

Instead of figuring out how to become truly efficient, we accuse other levels of government of not being "transparent" in order to try to get some of their pie.

Like the character Navin R. Johnson, many are having a hard time dealing with reality. We are presently in a deep recession that we are somehow trying to treat with quick "stimulus money" instead of dealing with the true roots of our country's economic problems. This is like trying to treat chronic insomnia with a can of Monster Energy drink – it may keep us going for a few more hours, but eventually we're going to have to get some sleep.

We talk tough and say we're going to make it through this but want this "funding" and that "grant." What we really need is true leadership at all levels of government. Government should provide us with the means to fulfill our needs and allow us, the people, to reap what we have sown.

Provide us with a safety net, protect those who are disadvantaged and give us the conduit we need to succeed.

The only jobs that government creates are government jobs. Other than that, government makes work. True jobs are provided by the private sector – from large businesses like IBM and the Mayo Clinic to small, local neighborhood businesses.

When our country is provided with a level playing field on which to compete we have proven to excel. The last decade's great buildup of debt has not provided us with more jobs but rather a steep hill for our citizens and businesses to climb, knowing that this massive debt all must be repaid.

When businesses can see that there is sustainable need for their products and services, brought on by true global economic activity, not borrowing money from our grandchildren to pay for "wants," jobs will be restored.


When people are put back to work and feel confident about being able to control their own future, we will once again flourish as an economic force. Until we can level our playing field, we need to quit pretending that we're going to spend ourselves into prosperity. With hard work, we can make it through this – without the thermos.

Facing a future of NOT being super rich, Navin's girlfriend, Marie, laments: "I don't care about losing all the money. It's losing all the stuff." Similar cries can be heard in government offices across our great country. It's time we ignore them.

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