Jerry Brown and the Evils of the Firemen First Principle

This is the seed of something larger that I’m thinking about.

From Mickey Kaus:

Charles Peters’ “Fireman First Principle”–outlined in this 1976 article–holds that a clever bureaucrat, faced with a budget reduction, will threaten to cut not the least essential services but the most essential (in order to provoke public outrage that results in the budget reduction getting cancelled)[.]

When Jerry Brown wanted to raise taxes last year (he claimed Proposition 30 was a tax on the evil 1%, but everyone’s sales tax went up,) he enlisted various unions representing those government employees that people generally like: Cops, teachers, firefighters. Because if you don’t vote for this thing, every single one of these people will be laid off, the result of which will be that the illiterate burglars who murder you will set your house on fire and no one will put it out. (To be fair, Scwarzenegger tried this as well, but he failed.)

Notice how Jerry Brown never held some press conference flanked by DMV workers, threatening that the lady at the DMV who treated you like a leper might not get a raise this year if you don’t give the governor more money. No, it’s always a pending disaster.

Well, what happens when the Firemen First Principle stops working? After all, a threat is only as good as the credibility of the person making it. Well, eventually you have to make things painful for the public. Like, I don’t know, letting a few prisoners out early. Because, really, they weren’t convicted of violent crime or anything. (They plea bargained that down.) Remember, prison realignment passed before Prop 30 did.

What really bothers me –  and I’m going to have to work more on explaining this – is that I get the feeling that we’re starting to see various governments beginning to make good on all of these Firemen First style threats – upping the ante when the public calls their bluff, to overuse a poker metaphor. Like I said, this is something I want to explore further and will in the coming days.