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Milton Friedman, American Hero What Did Senator-elect Jim Webb Mean?

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It's Not the Spending, Stupid

by Christopher Chantrill
November 26, 2006 at 6:52 pm


ACCORDING TO the exit polls at the November election the American people think that the Democrats are more likely than Republicans to limit government spending. Can this really be true?

But really we should be encouraged. The opinion polls are telling us that Democrats, at least when they are talking to the voters rather than among themselves, are talking spending restraint.

Mid-term defeat or not, when Democrats are toning down the rhetoric on spending demands it is first down and ten for conservatives and Republicans. It is time to move the chains down field. It is time to execute more imaginative plays.

When we talk about more or less government spending we are still discussing the liberal agenda item: Should we spend more or less on the liberal welfare state built up in the last century?

Let stop discussing the amount of government spending. Let us ask the bigger question: Why we are continuing to throw money at the human disaster of the failed liberal welfare state?

Governments have to do some things, like protect the people from enemies foreign and domestic. The problem with government is everything else, and the idea that government spending is ever beneficial beyond its obvious advantage to individual recipients and organized producer interests.

Take a look at the Big Three government programs: education, health care, and welfare. They call the Iraq War a disaster for tossing 100 billion dollars per year into a rat hole for the last three years. And it was all because President Bush was too stubborn; he just would not listen.

Well, what about the disaster of government education? For over a century the progressive class has stubbornly demanded that we throw good money after bad for universal, compulsory, government education. Did they ever listen to the critics? No. They told the critics that they just didn’t care about kids.

We know, because we have the statistics, that literacy in the Anglo-Saxon countries has not budged after more than a century of compulsory, universal, government education for children. But we toss about $500 billion a year, every year, into the K-12 education rat hole with no improvement in test results for twenty years, and none expected in the future. Where’s the exit strategy from this disaster?

The same applies to health care. For about a century we have been building a top-down health care delivery system according to the plan of the progressive class. But the result of the government domination of health care is that nobody knows what kind of health care people want, and how much they are willing to pay for. We only know that, at present where people pay out of pocket about 14 percent of their health care costs, they want a lot of health care. Of course they do.

Then there is government welfare. The scope of this disaster in domestic violence, in shattered marriages, in drug dependency, in destruction of lower-class culture, is almost beyond imagining. And it is all because of the stubbornness of the progressive class. They knew what was best, you see. And anyone who disagreed was mean-spirited and lacking in compassion. Because people have needs.

If we can get away from the merely pragmatic issue of too much or too little spending we can start to engage in what liberals call ethical issues. Is it ethical to legislate compulsory education that doesn’t deliver very much in the way of education? Is it ethical for politicians and bureaucrats rather than parents to make all the decisions about education? Is it ethical to continue for one more day an education system in which accountability is the last priority?

Health care in the United States is just as dominated by the producer interest as the education system. And now we have the huge problem, growing daily bigger, of geriatric health care and assisted living. Is it ethical to throw expensive medical procedures at older Americans so that they can molder away their last years, frail and broken, in a nursing home?

In government welfare, at least, we have made a start in changing the conversation, showing that welfare mothers are not helpless victims but resourceful humans that respond vigorously to the expectations that society places upon them. But the road is long, and the government welfare producer interest big and powerful.

Of course, changing the conversation is only the beginning. The challenge of changing America for the better is immense, and we shall not live to see the promised land.

But we can imagine an America in which parents control the education of their children. We can imagine an America where patients control the quality and the priorities of health care. We can imagine an America of mutual-aid associations woven in a web so dense that government social workers just give up trying to understand its reach—as they did in New York City at the turn of the twentieth century trying to understand the social-service networks of immigrant Jews. And we can begin the journey to a land flowing with milk and honey.

The politics of the future is not a question of spending. It is a question of imagination.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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