Can a Town Survive With Nearly No Government?

The Colorado Springs experiment brings Ayn Rand to life

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Small government conservatives in the city of Colorado Springs began slashing government services and taxes earlier this year and show no sign of slowing down. Everything from trash collection to streetlights to police coverage have been phased out in the quest to get closer to the free market model espoused by libertarians such as novelist Ayn Rand. The changes have turned Colorado Springs into something like a city-sized experiment in just how small government can get. So when pundits debate the Colorado Springs experiment, they're also debating the hard-line libertarian philosophy behind that experiment. Does drastically cutting services and taxes really work?

The Case For Colorado Springs

  • Minneapolis Columnist: We Should Try That The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Lori Sturdevant suggests, "Colorado Springs' actions could turn out to be a template for cities here and elsewhere trying to balance their recession-depleted budgets with spending cuts alone."
  • Just Like a Permanent 'Earth Hour' The Colorado Springs Gazette defends, "the media celebrate an annual event called Earth Hour as a nod to global warming. Americans are asked to turn out lights for one hour on a specified evening in order to help save Mother Earth from the ravages of wanton energy consumption." This is just like that, except permanent and more sweeping.
  • Everyone Should Do This Conservative blogger and Colorado Springs resident Michelle Malkin praises the move. "Self-reliance. Privatization. Thrift. Fiscal accountability. The liberals in Denver and Washington could learn something from our Mountain West spirit if they could just get over their Colorado Springs Derangement Syndrome."

The Case Against Colorado Springs

  • Stupidly Cutting Their Own Taxes The American Prospect's Monica Potts writes, "Colorado requires a referendum to raise taxes, and the voters of Colorado Springs recently rejected a proposed property tax increase that would have helped cover a budget gap, after the recession lowered sales tax revenue by $22 million since 2007. So now, voters will see how good individuals are at protecting the common good."
  • Inevitable With GOP Demonizing Taxes Liberal blogger Eric Martin seethes, "This is the natural result when one of the two major political parties wages tax jihad and demonizes government and its appendages to the extent that people no longer grasp the extent to which government services actually ensure a certain standard of living, not to mention economic opportunity."
  • Proves Importance of Gov't Role Thomas Levenson says the whole episode demonstrates that government does "a bunch of stuff essential for a sound economy and any chance of achieving what is commonly thought of as the American way of life." In pure market terms, as an example, "it might be hard to quantify the contribution of adequate street lighting to GDP -- but ask yourself what it would do to retail sales to have pools of darkness every thirty feet along a commercial street."

More On the Colorado Springs Experiment

  • Colorado Springs Runs on Federal Money The American Prospect's Monica Potts notes, "It's hard to ignore that the Department of Defense gives a lot of money to Lockheed Martin, the third largest employer in Colorado Springs." So the city so eager to repudiate government's role actually relies heavily on money from the federal government. This wealth of federal funding allows them to go with less city and state money.
  • Great Place For Looting The Awl's Alex Balk quips, "If you are into raping or looting or arson or jewel thievery or what have you, might we suggest you ply your trade in Colorado Springs, CO? ... On the negative side of the ledger, the parks and pools are all going to fall to shit, so your recreational activities will be somewhat curtailed, but you'll probably be too busy with the rape, looting, arson, and jewel thievery to notice!"
Such sentiments, which might draw cheers at a tea-party rally, are pretty much a mainstream view here in the state's second-largest city, the birthplace of Colorado's small-government movement. ... Colorado Springs is a conservative bastion that is home to the evangelical New Life Church, the influential Christian ministry Focus on the Family, and five military installations, including the U.S. Air Force Academy. In a state that helped put Barack Obama in the White House, Colorado Springs and its surrounding county voted overwhelmingly for John McCain. Households here are whiter, richer and far more likely to speak English at home than in Denver, 70 miles to the north, Census data indicates.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.