Opinion: Too much faith in government

October 2, 2013


It’s Obamacare activation and government “shutdown” week in Washington, where the consequences of misplaced faith in government are everywhere. Still, “true believers” remain faithful that Obamacare will be the exception to government’s past failures in achieving big goals.

There are examples galore of government’s inability to do things well and at reasonable cost, but that doesn’t deter those who continue to believe government can solve every problem.

The U.S. Postal Service wants to raise the cost of a first-class stamp from 46 cents to 49 cents in order to cover a “precarious financial condition.” That will only encourage more people to stop sending mail, all but guaranteeing another rate increase down the road.

The White House announced a $300 million aid package for Detroit, a city in which Democratic rule, high taxes, out-of-control spending and years of corruption precipitated its financial collapse. Half of the money will go toward eliminating blight. The real blight is the Democratic Party that ruled and then ruined Detroit.

The Federal Housing Authority announced Friday it is taking $1.7 billion in borrowed money from the U.S. Treasury to cover projected losses in reverse mortgage programs. It can do so without congressional authorization. Actors peddle reverse mortgages on TV all the time and we’re told they are “guaranteed” by the government. What could possibly go wrong?

The Heritage Foundation has compiled a long list of government programs that have failed to live up to their advertised goals. In addition to the Great Society monstrosities that have undermined the American family by subsidizing out-of-wedlock births and welfare dependency, some others include:

l Head Start. According to the Head Start Impact Study, in virtually every category, the program for preschool children has failed to achieve its stated goals. The study found “that the benefits of participating in Head Start almost completely disappear by first grade.”

l Food Stamps. This is one of 80 welfare programs going to one-third of Americans that will cost an estimated $12.7 trillion over the next decade without substantial reforms.

l Social Security. This is the “untouchable” entitlement, which needs reform as much, or more, than any other federal program. Women, especially, get a raw deal with Social Security. Again, as The Heritage Foundation has noted, “Among retired workers, women received $300 less than men in Social Security benefits in 2010, collecting only $1,023 in monthly benefits on average. Women are more likely than men to lack all of the necessary 35 years of payroll tax contributions to qualify for full benefits, as many take time off from the workforce to care for children and elderly parents. And those who don’t have a full work history are even worse off. Many seniors receive benefits below the federal poverty level.”

Add to this the annual ritual of federal agencies spending millions of “leftover” dollars before the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30 — $562,000 on “artwork” by the Department of Veterans Affairs, $178,000 by the Coast Guard on “cubicle furniture rehab,” according to The Washington Post — and you understand why so many are cynical about government’s track record of achievement and cost containment.

Space does not allow a full accounting of all federal agencies and programs that should be eliminated or reformed. There is no congressional requirement that these agencies and programs prove themselves worthy of our money and, once spawned, government programs are virtually impossible to kill.

Given so much evidence of government’s inability to make our lives better, what makes anyone think it will suddenly become competent running Obamacare? Only individuals, not government, can improve their lives by making right choices. Too often, government adds to our burdens with additional debt. It’s the one job government does well.

— Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.


Cait McKnelly 4 years, 7 months ago

I read this and a light bulb went off. I can't attribute it because it was posted anonymously.
"We have elected people to govern us who do not believe in government. That is why the government of the United States is, in large measure, closed."
In the end, the results are already pouring in. 2013 midterms are a month away in a number of states and, even though it's an off election year, on a national basis, Dems are leading the GOP by 10 points. People are fed up. The GOP is bleeding women, Millennials, minorities and independents like a severed carotid artery. I fully believe that feeling of frustration and being "done" will carry over into the next year. People, ultimately, want government and will not follow a party that refuses to govern.
Believe me, I'm not watching the demise of the GOP with any relish. My father, a WWII vet, was a lifelong moderate Republican. From him, I learned there is merit to having a certain amount of restraint in balance with progress. Unbridled Progressivism is just as bad as an unrestrained Tea party. The current GOP has to have him spinning in his grave.

Cait McKnelly 4 years, 7 months ago

That said, I would like to address some of the things Cal said.
To begin with, recognize that his source, the Heritage Foundation, is an ULTRA right wing think tank. I suggest that people research it.
| Headstart
The efficacy of Head Start and the gains that children do or do not make from it has just as much to do with the fact that most Head Start kids are in economically poor areas that have historically underfunded schools. Also, the fact that those gains "disappear" by first grade is a strawman. Head Start isn't meant to give children a "jump" on their peers, it's meant to give them the tools to keep up with them. In that sense, Head Start has actually been a rousing success.
| Food Stamps
One in three people in this country receive food stamps. What Cal isn't telling you is that the vast majority of those recipients are "working poor". They aren't "lazy welfare bums", they are people working their butts off in jobs that don't pay them enough to survive. They do this because they are the only jobs they can find and for which they can qualify. Two thirds of Walmart's employee base qualifies for government assistance. Corporate wide, across all stores, Walmart employees receive over 2 billion dollars each year in government assistance. This is money that goes directly into the pockets of the Waltons in wages they didn't HAVE to pay. And that's just one example.
| Social Security
Women do not get a "raw deal" from Social Security. They get a raw deal from employment practices in this country in general. The fact that women don't get as much from SS reflects the fact that, across the board, women make .77 cents for every 1.00 that men do. Take that across a lifetime of FICA payments and you can bet they will get $300/month less.
Oh and by the way, I think 178K for office furniture for an entire branch of the US military is pretty thrifty, given that the same line item for the Shawnee Mission School District is probably three times that much.

tomatogrower 4 years, 7 months ago

Cal, you're right. The Coast Guard should have built their own furniture. But then one of your precious private sector companies would have been left without a profit. What a dilemma. I"m sure that furniture company would agree with you. The Coast Guard shouldn't buy anything from them.

And I'm not sure what you mean by "art", but last time I was at the veteran's hospital in Topeka, they had some beautiful posters framed from WWII in the canteen area and along some of the halls were pictures of modern soldiers. Maybe they should have had just boring blah walls, but our soldiers have been put through a lot lately, even if most US citizens haven't noticed, and art lifts the spirits of most people with souls.

tomatogrower 4 years, 7 months ago

In addition, I just finished reading the Worst Hard Time. In this book people were dying from starvation and disease. The government finally stepped in to help. Without the work of our government the prairie would still be a dessert or still recovering from a man made disaster (Yes, Cal, mankind does impact the environment in a negative way).
The big bad government planted trees and grass to stop the earth from blowing away, they formed conservation groups, they drilled for water and built dams. Many farmers were still in denial that they were responsible for the dust storms.

In 2008, instead of having bread lines and people starving to death, the government was there with the food stamp program. You don't have people feeding their children pickled tumbleweed and jack rabbit, just to stay alive, or standing in bread lines or stealing food.

Although the farm subsidies are making corporate farms richer than they already are, and should be reformed, it did help some farmers keep their farms and not overwork the land.

I and everyone I know were educated in public schools, and were well educated, unless they preferred watching too much TV, playing video games, bought into the "it's uncool to be smart" culture or otherwise didn't do the work.

In Colorado, the big bad government has come in to fix their roads destroyed by floods, before winter sets in, even though the governor had to step in to keep them working, because the GOP doesn't want people to be able to buy affordable health insurance.

The government sent up the satellites that help warn us when a tornado or hurricane is coming.

The nasty old government keeps planes from colliding in mid air and keep crazy people blowing up planes.

The nasty modern government has kept whole species from being wiped out by hunters or so called "progress".

They have kept other countries from invading us through diplomacy.

Are they perfect, no. Have they done things that shame us, yes. But the kind of government promoted by these extremists would be down right awful, especially if you are a woman or a non Christian or poor.

jafs 4 years, 7 months ago

Since his first example of the Post Office is required to run on it's own but at the same time comply with absurd federal regulations, it's not a good example of a government program.

It's a great example of a formerly government program that is being attacked from all sides in an attempt to privatize it.

deec 4 years, 7 months ago

The main reason the post office is in the red is because of the absurd law passed by the lame duck congress of 2006 and signed by Bush which requires the USPS to pre-fund retiree health benefits for the next 75 years in a 10 year span. If it weren't for those payments, the post office would show a profit of $182 million for the 2013 fiscal year.


tomatogrower 4 years, 7 months ago

And obviously he hasn't been out of the country. Our Post Office gets mail from New York to LA in a couple of days. That's not an easy feat. They always hold up Great Britain as an example of fast mail delivery, but their country isn't that big.

gr 4 years, 7 months ago

Or is it because they are union run?

deec 4 years, 7 months ago

The Post Office is run by these guys, with Congressional oversight. Less than half of postal employees are union members. Many jobs are being reclassified to positions which are ineligible for union membership.


Cait McKnelly 4 years, 7 months ago

Bottom line, much of what Cal has said in this screed is either naive at best or, at worst, disingenuous.

voevoda 4 years, 7 months ago

There are all sorts of things that the government does very well--even better than private companies: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard, Park Service, National Archives, Library of Congress, Presidential Libraries (all of them), interstate highways, Federal Aviation Agency, National Weather Bureau, OSHA (occupational safety), National Institutes of Health, Mint, Federal Deposit Insurance, Foreign Service, NASA, Smithsonian Institution, courts, FBI, intelligence gathering, etc. etc.

oldbaldguy 4 years, 7 months ago

As an example of how the government has effected my family: I recieve a check every month from the Department of Defense and the VA, My handicapped son recieves SSI. My other son is on active duty in the Air Force. My Dad served through three wars and retired from the Air Force. He then worked for the government putting Vietnam vets to work. My grandfather worked for the WPA besides farming in the 30s. Our farm did not have electricity until 1941 through the federal rural electrification program. Well water until 1965. We had a WPA made outhouse in use until 1965. Visit the Hoover dam and tell me government cannot get anything done

verity 4 years, 7 months ago

Those WPA outhouses were great! I wish I had a photo of ours---really uptown. Even after we had indoor bathrooms, we often used it, it was so handy when we were outside. Best outhouses ever.

oldbaldguy 4 years, 7 months ago

my grandfather would sit out there with the door open to see who pulled in the parking lot. my grandmother said one time to me, "no such thing as the good old days, they were pretty bad sometimes, just good memories of how we got through them."

verity 4 years, 7 months ago

Yeah, my parents didn't advocate for a return to the old days either.

verity 4 years, 7 months ago

Rural electrification. My family home got it about the same time as yours. My mother had hung the milk/baby bottles down the well to keep it from going bad. Many babies died before refrigeration. Many houses burned down from kerosene heaters/lighting.

All federal interference bad, so bad.

Paul R Getto 4 years, 7 months ago

Old, rich white guys can afford the luxury of hating government.

Mike Ford 4 years, 7 months ago

I have no faith in anarchist teapartiers who get elected to destroy something that works when they and the rushlicans don't intentionally work to dismantle it. don't claim that Washington doesn't work when you're the reason why it isn't working. DUH.

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