Our over-reliance on government Posted by: McQ
on Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Tony Blankley wonders about the decline of leadership ability throughout the world, but especially here in the US:
When did Americans forget how to fix things? From the Big Dig in Boston, to the Katrina aftermath (where the Corps. of Engineers announced this week that a year later the "repaired" levees couldn't hold back a Category Three hurricane), to our Southern border — things are broken and can't seem to be repaired.
Maybe the public schools should reinstate those wood, metal and print shop classes they required us boys to take until the mid-1960s. Apparently, we are devolving rapidly back to the Lemur stage of primate tool use skills (no offense intended to my Lemur friends who struggle on bravely without the advantage of opposable thumbs. We middle-aged white guys, on the other hand, seem to have become all thumbs.)
Not that we should let off the hook women and people of color who also hold positions of responsibility in government. The recently re-elected mayor of New Orleans's almost absurd incompetence and lethargy in the face of his duties puts him right up there with the white guys in Boston who have proven themselves utterly unable to build and maintain a tunnel. D—- it, prairie dogs build tunnels better than Bostonians.
And our once estimable secretary of state, Ms. Condoleezza Rice, has proven to be a more able concert pianist than conductor of diplomacy. I have talked to some very senior figures in Europe and here at home (Bush supporters, no less) who were staggered by the secretary's failure to nail down the terms and conditions for troop deployment with France before permitting the French resolution to go to a vote in the Security Council.
The easy answer is 'but the world is so complex now'. Well, yes and no. It's not so complex that you continue to build cities below sea level in an area known for killer hurricanes or ever figure the French will keep their word (even though now, grudgingly, pressure seems to be forcing them to deploy more troops). Blankley has a point.
We, meaning our leadership, seem never to learn from history and to overestimate, in some cases, our abilities. And we've made a right hash of things from our diplomacy to our schools and everything in between.
Why did this stuff seem to work better in the past and now is in seemingly hopeless straits now?
For one thing we didn't use government is Mr. Fix-it for most of our "problems". Schools were a local matter and we ran them as such. Disaster relief was also handled locally with charitable organizations pitching in as well. What we seem not to understand is that elevating everything to a governmental responsibility isn't the best or most efficient solution. And yet we hear more and more calls for more and more government in more and more areas.
It's a siren song. We seem to want to live our lives in a rubber room safe from all stress, worry, injury and threats and we're increasingly willing to turn ourselves over to the one entity which proves over and over again to be not up to the job - government. In fact, in many cases, our problems are created by governmental intrusion and then government proposes the solution which usually means more government. It's a vicious cycle.
There's a reason government employment is one of the fastest growing sectors within the job market.
It remains a mystery to me as to why we seem to understand that government, as presently structured, is consistently failing us in most of its undertakings yet we, as a whole, seem to think more government will fix that.
Let me propose a radical change in thinking. Perhaps less government will fix it. Perhaps letting government concentrate on those things it does marginally better than others, like defense, security, regulation and law enforcement (protecting life, liberty and property) is the way to go. Get it out of areas where it really has no business, creates more problems than solutions and has demonstrated its incompetence regularly, like schools, welfare, health care, energy and the like. Fashion government as a "night watchman" vs. government as "Santa Claus". Give back the responsibility for people's lives to the people.
Whoa! What happened? What was in my coffee?
There I go again, dreaming the dream. Back to Blankley's reality. Incompetence at the highest levels and across the board. Mostly mediocre people doing a mostly mediocre job in "leadership". What indeed has happened to us that we've ended up with those in charge and those that are on the horizon don't seem any more competent or promising than what we have?
How do we fix this? How do we get back to what I've always considered to be an America trait, that of self-reliance, instead of the continuing and increasing over-reliance on incompetent government?
Is it over-reliance on government that’s the problem, or a more general over-reliance on Anyone But Ourselves? Expecting A Higher Power or The Invisible Hand to solve all our problems seems like exactly the same as expecting Big Government to do so. A lot of the anti-government railing comes down to the idea that my life will be better if somebody else changes what they’re doing. Well, how about if I change what I’m doing? That’s true self-reliance. I used to be poor, but I didn’t blame that on Big Bad Government. I took responsibility and did what was necessary in the reality I inhabited to ensure success. Why can’t others do the same?
The truth is that government can and will do certain things that affect us both positively and negatively. Markets can and will do certain things that affect us both positively and negatively. Mostly, though, what affects us is us. As the saying goes, the one constant in all of your unsatisfying outcomes is you. Just shifting the finger of blame won’t change that.
Reliance on government is the easy path. Self-reliance is the hard one. Most people can’t or won’t exhibit the self-discipline necessary to forego government aid. This may be a cultural issue; may also be a matter of government just having far more power to offer than previously.
In any case, the dependence won’t be broken until it is actively taken away. Government has to break, thoroughly and consistently, and stay broken or ineffective for an extended period of time. That will allow a vaccuum for people to learn to do things themselves again (and one in which they will have to; failing which, they starve).
You left out the fact that with government comes partisanship. Therefore, half the people are screwing things up so that they can regain power. Where did the information that Condi "screwed up" come from? A partriot wishing her Godspeed and success?
I’ll try a third take on this topic and you’ll hear a familiar sentiment from me.
There ARE things that only the federal government has the resources to respond to, things that would overwhelm state and local resources. Some examples are listed above hurricane response, response to terrorist attacks, very large infrastructure projects (think highways). In each of these cases, self reliance and local community is also critical. I don’t believe that the ability of self reliance is diminished at all, there is just a lot more rhetoric about government failures that give this impression.
But what I think the real problem is the change in the metric of what constitutes success in government. Once upon a time, it was being effective at accomplishing the responsibilities at hand. When an elected official was deemed competent, that went a long way to getting them re-elected. Today, competency at accomplishing the job at hand has very little to with the current metric of success, ONLY re-election matters, and competency doesn’t get people re-elected, money, party support, and corporate support gets people re-elected. So you could have two candidates, one that spends all of his time doing his job, and another that spends all of his time fund raising and snuggling up with lobbyists, and the more successful of the two will be the latter.
Why do big government sub-contracts fail so often or cost so much more than they should? Because they are not chosen based on their competency, only on their ability to help officials meet their success metric of being re-elected.
You want competency again?
Get money out of the electoral process.
If you think that the First Amendment precludes this as a possibility, than you have ceded to hopelessness.
Cap, I disagree. Money has always been in politics; the problem is power. The Fed has more power over our lives than ever. If the amount of power was reduced there would be less competition to control that power, hence less need for money in the competitive effort. Money would leave naturally in search of better opportunities.
We need to start rolling the power back. I don’t think that happens without a cultural change, and to Rollory’s point, I think something needs to break seriously before the culture changes. People resist change until forced, typically. While I’d prefer not to live through the pain, I wonder if the collapse of Medicare and Social Security (whether they really collapse or much higher confiscatory taxes are passed to support them - either way it is a collapse in my mind) are the types of changes we need to usher in a less powerful state. I doubt the terrorism threat will do it, unless perhaps we lose a city.
In any case, the dependence won’t be broken until it is actively taken away. Government has to break, thoroughly and consistently, and stay broken or ineffective for an extended period of time.
There’s another way of looking at this, which is that as our available information rises, our expectations rise - faster than the performance of, for example, our government, and this creates an illusionary downward trend of performance that is not in fact true.
Frankly, I doubt that the government responded more effectively to hurricanes 50 years ago than today. I’d imagine literacy rates are higher today than they were 50 years ago. The difference is, 50 years ago, expectations were localized enough so that most communities didn’t know a good education from a bad one, and there were plenty of ways to make a respectable buck other than graduating from high school.
In both these cases, the institution has not kept up with changing demands, but has it declined absolutely over the long term? I doubt it.
That’s a distinction without a difference, McQ. Expecting others to solve your problems for you is totally orthogonal to whether coercion is involved. Nowhere in your original post did you mention coercion, and introducing it now doesn’t invalidate any of what I said.
If someone expects the government to help with Katrina reconstruction, they’re not asking for coercion; they’re asking for help. The fact that the help might paid for via taxation and not via voluntary contributions is irrelevant. So is the fact that some extremist nutcases consider taxation to be coercion in the same way e.g. that imprisonment without charges or legal recourse is. Oh, wait, those same nutcases are actually less critical of the imprisonment than of taxation. Go figure. In any case, the point is that how the help is financed is not the Katrina victims’ concern when they ask for help.
Government is coercion ... it shouldn’t have to be formally introduced each time you discuss it if you actually understand its nature.
If you’re pretending to write for a general audience, you should expect a general interpretation - not one specific to the extremist view that statements like "government is coercion" represent. Thus, relevance is up to you to establish and not assume.
Also, not all coercion is evil, just as not all war is evil. Force must be met with force. to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men . . . sound familiar? How can one secure rights except via coercion? You might use a phrase like "all government is coercion" to paint all government and hence reliance on it as bad, but not everyone sees it that way. Our founders didn’t. The coercion represented by taxation is something they tacitly admitted a need for, unlike for example the idea of imprisoning people without charges and without legal recourse. What’s amazing is that some people who bitch and moan about the former have no problem at all with the latter, and they still try to claim that it’s other people who hate freedom.
Well Platypus I see your point, BUT "Coercion" and "government" can also be "terms of art" not just perjoratives. "War" involves killing, in it’s accepted sense, now generally war and killing are considered bad things, but they are also just attributes of the condition as well. Government, by definition involves COERCION. It’s a part of the operational defintion of "Government", McQ and other libertarians, don’t necessarily use "coercion" in its perjorative sense, just its descriptive sense. It is true that Rothbardians use Governments=Coercion and mean it in a very bad way.
Bottom-Line: Government IS coercion.... just as war is killing and Gravity means things fall down. They CAN have bad connotations but not always. Sometimes thye ae just descriptors. Or as Freud is reported to ahve said, "Sometimes a cigar is JUST a cigar."
You might use a phrase like "all government is coercion" to paint all government and hence reliance on it as bad, but not everyone sees it that way. Our founders didn’t. The coercion represented by taxation is something they tacitly admitted a need for
Only the ones who lived to be over 150 years old. The rest were pretty well dead by 1913.
More to the point, I don’t understand why eschewing reliance on government automatically means one is "Expecting A Higher Power or The Invisible Hand to solve all our problems ...." How exactly does one rely on the Invisible Hand to solve our problems? Seeing as the market is people providing for themselves (aka "invisible hand of self-interest"), doesn’t that make your example nonsensical? How does relying on your own self-interest equate to relying on someone or something other than yourself?
Get it out of areas where it really has no business, creates more problems than solutions and has demonstrated its incompetence regularly, like schools, welfare, health care, energy and the like
Europeans and Asians run National public school systems, directed by the Central government Education Ministries. In the last 40 years, they have surged well ahead of American school products in educational attainment, global performance tests in math, science, reading comprehension. Not just "top tier" Asian and Euro places, but lands well behind America in standard of living. The US system is effectively run by a cabal of teachers unions, school textbook publishers, and pedegogues at private universities and in various governemt and private sector Education establishments. Americans of the black, hispanic persuasion, and whites to a lesser extent are also noted not to drive their kids learning and schooling as a high priority..unlike Euros or Asians.
The result is most Euro and Asian countries have moved ahead of us on measures of upward mobility and ability to fill critical skilled jobs in their nations. Without Asians or Euros needing mass H1-B visas or "brain-drain bribing" better educated people from less developed countries. We use both in America to compensate for our educational failures by offering them a slice of America’s current prosperity. Only current, as the Ruling Elites and Rising China are working hard to end it.
The government run health care systems of Asia and Europe deliver quality care to 100% of the people, not the 6/7ths covered under the bastardized American public-private system, and do it for 40-70% of the American per capita cost even with Americans keeping 1/7th the population out of the public-private "covered" category. Most of those countries have a higher life expectancy than the American system manages.
America, if it went to the well-regarded German system, would achieve a 30% savings in per capita health care dollar expenditures. Enough to make Medicare financially viable. Our current public-private system has a 40 trillion unfunded liability. Going to a Darwinian private system is unlikely, especially with companies warning they cannot be globally competitive if they continue to pay health care costs of American employees while elsewhere the state does that and their rivals and product pricing escapes the US employer’s burden.
The notion of the genius of the market fixing the long term energy needs of America with private solutions is a wonderful, quaint wish for an early America that pre-Standard Oil, had trust in private enterprise solving problems, not using the problems as an excuse to further rape the people. Besides, corporations did little or nothing since the 1973 Energy crisis, confined to only looking ahead quarter-by-quarter. At the present time, oil and gas companies are not using their windfall profits to dramatically escalate exploration or development of alternate energy sources...but putting the bulk of those profits into buying short-term US government debt incurred from Bush’s great expenses or into non-energy investment sector investments in Finance and Rising China.
Hard to imagine a national energy policy left to anyone other than the nation.
Welfare? The State does SS pretty well with very low overhead. "Privatizing" that or other welfare programs would just be a license for "enterprising entrepreneurs" to steal a good chunk of each dollar...as is the case in health care...where 40% of the expenses are for things other than medical care, direct medical infrastructure, or research.
Government is the best vehicle to deliver welfare, not "for profit" mailhouses or poverty pimps...It is up to the citizenry to realize that the blame is not with government, but with LAWs their representatives passed and with Court dictates that can be reversed...not with the people delivering the checks as ordered.
"The State does SS pretty well with very low overhead."
That’s all I need to read, C. Ford, to know you are less than fully informed on matters financial. A Ponzi scheme, fyi, can be run with very low overhead and will look financially attractive for a long time, but eventually it is likely to collapse. While SS is not a true Ponzi scheme, it’s close, and is subject to collapse or extremely high costs as the ratio of workers to beneficiaries shifts unfavorably. We are heading in that direction and only the ostriches think differently.
That’s all I need to read, C. Ford, to know you are less than fully informed on matters financial.
I don’t think that C. Ford was commenting on the structure of SS, but rather that the actual administrative overhead for operating the system is less than 1% of benefits. Compare this to an estimated 20% overhead on private accounts.
I agree that the structure should be altered, but I guarantee that if the administration of the plan were outsourced, the overhead would increase exponentially.
The point is the same for healthcare, we pay almost twice as much as a fraction of our GDP compared to Canada, and we provide better healthcare to some, equivelant to others, and none to others, all in all, maybe a tie, FOR TWICE THE COST. We have about 30% administrative overhead in our public/private nightmare of a healtcare system, Canada has about 2%. Do the math.
Cap - I understand that the comment was about the overhead, but the overhead is irrelevant. I should be happy that the cost to rip me off is low? Point conceded, the government can be hyper-efficient in screwing me.
If you had to double your overhead, but more than doubled your returns, would you be pissed? Ever hear the expression "penny wise, pound foolish?"
As for healthcare, I’d say you stand accused of gross oversimplification.
As for healthcare, I’d say you stand accused of gross oversimplification.
Perhaps, but maybe you can detail the complexities outlining the reasons why American pays TWICE the percentage of the GDP as Canada and has at best, a system that is no better?
Maybe you would like explain the complexities that make it better to have a 30% overhead in our system than a 2% in a single payer plan?
In either case, you got some splainin’ to do!
If you had to double your overhead, but more than doubled your returns, would you be pissed? Ever hear the expression "penny wise, pound foolish?"
Sure, but if you had to multiply your overhead by 20 times in order to more than double your returns, would you be pissed? Ever heard the expression "I have a bridge to sell you"?
SS as it is currently set up is awful, SS under Bush’s private accounts option would be worse, but there is another option. I’ll send it to Jon and see if we start a discussion specifically on that topic.
The main point being that the government CAN efficiently manage a plan, our job as citizens to get the best plan in place and let them manage it efficiently. We are responsible for the monster in place now, and any time you hear a politician suggest a change, I would look very carefully at who will profit from it. If it is anyone other than the beneficiaries of their own contributions, pass, then look for another plan.
Bush’s SS plan, like the medicare drug plan, was a boondoggle for an industry group, not an investment or savings plan for workers.
I didn’t realize I was on the spot to explain the reasons for the cost of healthcare in the US just by pointing out that your single sentence on the subject was lacking substance and depth. Frankly I don’t have the time to go down that path.
I don’t need to multiply my overhead 20 times to more than double my returns. My overhead is LOWER than the government’s and I get a FAR BETTER return than SS will ever provide me. I don’t expect to even break even with SS. I do better than the so-called market averages.
Why is it Cap that the government should be responsible for two of the most important aspects of my life - my health and my money? Are the folks in the government uniquely qualified to do this? If they are so damn good, why doesn’t Warren Buffet ask the government to invest his money? If the government is so damn efficient (and if being efficient is the most important factor) why not have government do everything for us? We’re crazy not to, aren’t we?
Why is it Cap that the government should be responsible for two of the most important aspects of my life - my health and my money?
Actually, I don’t think the government should be responsible for either, I just think that the government is uniquely capable of administering both more efficiently than the private sector.
For me this means a dramatic change in Social Security, and yes, I support private accounts, just not Bush’s boondoggle, and many more changes.
For health care this means that doctors and hospitals are operated for the purpose of serving their patients health care needs and the government administers the plan covering every US citizen that wishes to participate. All others pay cash (or whatever they can work out with the provider).
In most businesses, really all businesses, the function of the enterprise is to be profitable, that is the bottom line. In health care it is the same. But you have to ask yourself one question, does a more profitable medical provider offer better care?
But wait, the "free market" will correct poor service high profit providers because patients will flee from those providers, making the best quality providers the most profitable providers, right?
WRONG, the poor service, high profit providers will BUY the high quality, lower margin providers and turn them into poor service, high profit providers.
The Fix It gene is not on the Y chromosome. Why should boys only have shop? Sometimes that is the problem, giving a task to someone whom you think has skills just because who they are, rather than who has to skills to complete the task.
The Red Cross, Salvation Army, Second Harvest, the Mennonites, Habitat for Humanity and Oprah; among many others have put money, effort and skill into relieving the conditions arising from Katrina. The project is massive, my expectations would be that whatever government can do, they ought to do better, because everyone else (charities) has stepped up. Interesting enough, when poor black people were helping each other through their churches, that did not seem newsworthy to report. Those black people had to be portrayed as being like baby birds in their nest, with their mouths open waiting for big gorvernment to feed them.
Our society has become so fearful of a lawsuit that what used to be acceptable to do, is not longer possible. Example: our local high school needed repair work and I suggested that we recruit businesses and citzens to volunteer to perform the work. A no go situation I was told. Such projects were not allowed due to the possibility of a lawsuit. That type of attitude is pushing me to retired from the increasingly wimpish construction field and work my small farm. Me, myself and I will perform what is necessary without government and lawyers overseeing my efforts.