Independence Day Fireworks Burn Taxpayers

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

Part of my day job is writing a weekly column about questionable ways that government spends tax dollars. Being in the holiday spirit and all, I looked into the expense of taxpayer-subsidized Independence Day fireworks displays.

One of my pet peeves is when someone pretends to know what the Founding Fathers would think about a modern issue, but I really do doubt that Tommy Jefferson, Sammy Adams, Bobby Morris and the boys would be particularly thrilled that Detroit Рwhich is currently considering bankruptcy Рis blowing nearly $900k on a fireworks show.

While too many cities spend tax dollars to fund Fourth of July festivities, some fireworks shows are provided at no cost to taxpayers thanks to contributions and hard work of local businesses and individuals.

Read here to see other examples of taxpayer-funded fireworks shows, as well as examples of cities that – I believe – do it the right way.

-Drew Johnson

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8 Responses to “Independence Day Fireworks Burn Taxpayers”

  1. #1 |  supercat | 

    While people may reasonably argue about whether fireworks shows represent a wise expenditure of money, the larger ones qualify at least somewhat as a “public good” to the extent that they can be enjoyed from a very large area. A public good is one whose use by one person will not significant impair use by others, and where charging a fee for use would be impractical. If a fireworks show could only be seen by people within a small area, and if more people would want to see the show than the area could fit, then anyone who sees the show would impair someone else’s ability to do so, and it might be possible to sell access to those willing to pay the most. Such a fireworks show would not be a public good, since it would fail at least one and probably both criteria. A fireworks show which is so big that it can be seen and enjoyed by people ten miles away, however, would likely qualify as a public good if the number of places within the ten mile radius where people could see and enjoy the fireworks substantially exceeds the number of people who wish to see them. Displaying fireworks for viewing by a very large area can avoid the traffic congestion and other issues which arise from smaller displays that require viewers to congregate close together.

    I’m not saying that six-figure fireworks displays are a wise expenditure of money, but they represent more of a public good than a lot of other government expenditures. My biggest wish as an observer of such displays, btw, would be to have the associated radio broadcasts include sound, so that viewers who are 10 miles away could hear explosions delayed by e.g. 1-2 seconds rather than 50. Anyone know of any displays that do that?

  2. #2 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    My late Father never forgave the safety-fascists for getting so many states to ban private purchase of fireworks. He had been the adopted son of a minister, and Good Little Boys didn’t play with firecrackers or fireworks. Then, when he was grown up and could have bought what he wanted without it affecting his Father’s position in the community (which mattered to my Father) the do-gooders had gotten them banned.

    He died just last year, aged 88, and I think one of his few regrets as a parent was that he hadn’t been able to supervise me lighting off firecrackers and fireworks on Independence Day.

    Why am I bringing this up? Because if the government hadn’t put itself in the position of ‘protecting’ people who didn’t want to be protected, the citizenry could set off their own celebratory fireworks.

    What the government provides it will eventually ban everyone else from providing. Conversely; what the government bans it will eventually come around to providing.

    Think I’m paranoid? Consider the Lottery.

  3. #3 |  Bill Poser | 

    I grew up in Vermont, which was socially liberal but fiscally conservative. Every municipality had a fireworks display, but they kept within their means. The little villages, therefore, would have fireworks displays consisting of only two or three shells. Some friends and I once spent the night of July 4th on the summit of Camel’s Hump, one of the higher mountains, from which we could see the fireworks displays of a bunch of surrounding villages. It was funny to see Starksboro fire of a couple of shells and then a few minutes later Huntington fire of their two or three and so forth.

  4. #4 |  Ornithorhynchus | 

    I live in a tiny town of less than 1000, with a population that is mostly lower middle-class, and yet we manage to have a large fireworks display every year, funded entirely by donations.

  5. #5 |  Windy | 

    The town (of 70,000) nearest my home has a display funded by donations, but it is not easy finding a location to see it if one doesn’t go early in the day and remain there all day and the display doesn’t begin until 10:00 (sun doesn’t go down until 9:15 and we all know the displays are best against a dark sky). If one does manage to get to a location where the display is visible, one cannot hear the music to which the fireworks are coordinated and the traffic afterwards makes it unlikely that one will get home before 1AM.

    C.S.P. Great comment and I agree, I recall the fireworks shows my father’s (very large) family put on every year, we’d have a big family picnic and when it began to get dark, the men would have had tables set up on the lower lawn terrace where they had their array of fireworks set up, fountain, rockets, etc. On the upper lawn were chairs and picnic blankets for the women and children. Such fun and now illegal to enjoy. We can buy fireworks from the AmerIndians but we may not take them off the reservations.

  6. #6 |  Fascist Nation | 

    What does it look like when you accidentally piss away the taxpayer’s dime in one not so glorious 15 second fireworks display? Something like this — oooops, shows over folks, time to go home:
    http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2012/07/san-deigo-accidentally-set-all-its-fireworks-same-time/54194/

  7. #7 |  Fascist Nation | 

    here are the youtubes…I especially liked the start of the music sync just as it was ending on one, “We will, we will rock you!”
    http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=san+diego+fireworks+2012&oq=san+diego+fireworks+&gs_l=youtube.1.0.0i3.17916.19106.0.22098.5.5.0.0.0.0.135.570.1j4.5.0…0.0.bPSZBoJitq0

  8. #8 |  ScS | 

    They’d be more likely to ask, “What’s a Detroit?”

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