My turn: When Alaska towns lose their reason to be

A town should exist without government help

Posted: Thursday, March 29, 2007

I would like to see a special committee, comprised of members of both chambers of the Alaska Legislature, formed to asses the economic viability of every city, town and village within the boundaries of the state. When completed, the list should be organized in order of the strength of their economic viability. The areas determined to have the lowest economic viability would be ranked at the bottom.

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Economic viability should be gauged as the ability to exist without government grants, subsides or welfare of any source.

Early in Alaska's history, small villages were formed in which humans found they could safely exist without starving to death or die from lack of protection from the elements. That became the raison d'être for the community. When either of those elements disappeared, the village was abandoned and its occupants moved on. The small village of Sumdum near Tracy Arm is a good example. There was no public outcry; residents simply moved on. It was a matter of survival.

Today, with a permanent fund in excess of $40 billion, and our Sen. Ted Stevens bringing federal appropriations reported sufficient to provide 45,000 jobs annually in the state of Alaska each year, some have begun to feel that every place in Alaska that contains a population of citizens has a birthright to continue existence long after its raison d'être has expired.

One might argue that allowing communities to die is unconscionable when you consider the wealth we have. Many will feel an obligation to continue to provide government support to those communities way beyond any reason.

But here is my point.

Allowing communities whose raison d'être has expired to continue surviving through government handouts is a matter of public policy that should be debated on its merits. Let's shed the false value of an inherent right to survive and look at the situation under the cold light of day. If our government allows villages and towns to become extinct, some would say that is too tough. Our powerful government is causing too much pain and disruption. Others have said it is a racial issue because many of the villages are predominantly Native.

On the other hand, if our all-powerful government continues to prop up the economy of those towns and villages they have to find the money from somewhere, don't they? Government has no money itself. It only has what it can take from somebody who earned it. In Alaska's case, it can also come from the Alaska Permanent Fund.

This is where the public policy debate should take place.

Do the citizens of Alaska have an obligation to continue to prop up villages and towns that have lost their raison d'être? It's not a racial issue, but an economic issue.

If the answer were yes, then I would suggest not stopping there. The citizens of Alaska should step up to the plate and subsidize businesses that are struggling so that we no longer have to suffer from business failures. Business failures cause much distress as well. Now the public policy debate moves to "where do we stop?"

I think the French were right on this one. When you lose your raison d'être, you move on.

Self-reliance used to be taught as an American virtue. What has happened?

• David Fremming is a resident of Juneau.

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