Ronald Reagan was right when he said that government is the problem, not the solution. But in spite of Reagan’s wisdom, a lot of Americans don’t get it—enough in fact to re-elect Barack Obama, the worse big-government president in America’s history. Any time there is a problem in this country, those affected by it expect government to rush to the rescue. This is why the federal government—with only a few temporary exceptions—has grown steadily since George Washington’s administration. Whatever the crisis of the moment happened to be—recession, depression, natural disaster, or war—Congress and presidents have responded by growing government. Of course, once the crisis passes the enlarged government stays enlarged. In a Democracy, once the government gives something, it cannot easily take it away—a hard lesson Reagan learned when he tried to reduce the size of government.
There are some things that government can and should do, things that are necessary for the good of all but do not respond to the profit motive. Providing for our national defense comes to mind. Military personnel do not fight America’s battles for love of money. They do it for love of country. This is why the military cannot be privatized and the federal government is and should be responsible for our national defense. But the hard truth is there are very few things that a large centralized government can do well. America’s Founding Fathers understood this, which is why the Constitution was written in a way that limits government—a fact that politicians in the White House, Congress, and Courts have historically ignored and continue to ignore. Our Founders wanted government to do only a limited number of essential things, things that states, organizations, and individuals are not suited to do for themselves. However, in spite of the federal government’s consistent record of failure in trying to solve problems, Americans continue to approach every crisis—large or small—in the same way: by demanding that government do something.
Conservatives face a major challenge in trying to break the American public of its addiction to nanny government. However, one of the things we can do is collect the evidence of government failure the mainstream media chooses to ignore and share that evidence with the general public in forums both large and small. In his book, NO THEY CAN’T: Why Government Fails—But Individuals Succeed, John Stossel provides numerous examples of the government trying to solve specific problems and failing miserably.
Here are just two of them:
• Ensuring that every American can own a home. Universal home ownership is a concept that sounds good in theory and tugs at one’s heartstrings. After all, wouldn’t it be great if all Americans could own their own home? Of course it would, but there is a problem: many Americans cannot afford the down payment or mortgage payments that go with home ownership. True to its nature, the federal government stepped in with a plan for ensuring universal home ownership. The federal government mandated that people who could not afford a home would receive government guaranteed subsidies—case closed, problem solved. Right? Not quite. What actually happened is now well known by Americans who suffered through the recession precipitated by the government subsidies. Stossel summarizes what happened in just a few well-chosen words: “…subsidies rewarded irresponsible risk taking and punished thrift. They created the housing bubble, gutted retirement accounts, and screwed the taxpayer.” In trying to give every American a home, the government caused the great recession that, in turn, caused thousands of Americans to lose their homes.
• Ensuring that every American earns a “living” wage. Providing all Americans a “living” wage is another of those concepts that sounds good in theory and tugs at the heartstrings. After all, wouldn’t it be great if all Americans could earn a sufficient income to provide for themselves and their families? Of course it would, but there is a problem. Workers are not all equal in what they bring to the job. There are undeniable differences in qualifications, motivation, attitudes, and work ethic. Consequently, while some workers may be underpaid at their current salary or wage, many are overpaid. Increasing an employee’s wage level does not make that individual more valuable to his or her employer. As a result, government mandates such as the minimum wage invariably result in workers being laid off or, at the very least, seeing their hours—hence their income—cut back. Every time the minimum wage is increased, entry-level jobs that require no skills or experience—the kind of jobs that are so important in getting people started in their work lives—are eliminated.
As John Stossel says in his book, “…government fails—but individuals succeed.” I would respectfully add that individuals succeed best when the government gets out of their way.