Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Tea Party World

I understand the allure of "small government" - indeed, there are areas, specifically around military expenditures where I'd like it to get a lot smaller - but in general, it is not a world where I want to live.

The arguments for small government come from two general directions. First, that people should be responsible for their own lives. What they earn, they keep. Where they stumble, that is their problem. They make their choices and live with them. This argument, in its best incarnation, assumes that everyone has equal access. This is, blatantly untrue. Some people are recipients of the hard work, good luck, or unlawful activity of their ancestors while others suffer because of mistakes made in previous generations or as the result of injustices suffered in years before. And of course, there are cultural differences, often related to the above issues, that come into play as well. Some people run the entire marathon with no training and no shoes while others start 10 feet from the end and could crawl across the line and still win. In its worst incarnation, the argument doesn't care that things aren't equal. "I got mine, so screw you."

The second direction is tied to the first, that people should not be forced to help others. Some would argue that they will do it on their own without the government interfering. In the case of businesses, the free market will push them to ethical behavior. In the case of individuals, compassion for others will push them to build a more just society. Beyond the fact that history shows otherwise, this argument requires a belief that human beings are by nature altruistic, compassionate, far sighted, and interested in the needs of others. There is no doubt that we see hints of this and that there are individuals who exhibit those traits, but as a species... I wouldn't count on it. The Christian tradition has a theological concept that applies here - original sin. I do not believe that people are by nature depraved or evil, but I do believe that when push comes to shove, most people put their own needs first and most people are predisposed to ignore the needs and pains of others. How many times have we heard someone ho has returned from a trip to Haiti or India or Africa or even some of the US inner cities or the Gulf Coast and remark, "I never imagined such poverty." Well, if you never imagined it, it was only because you closed your eyes. It has always been there. And of course, there is the second thread in this argument... people should not be forced to help others because they are where they deserve to be.

So what do we hear from the Tea Party, the bastion of small government thinking? I have heard arguments that we should terminate unemployment benefits, social security, welfare, and Medicare. There is no question that these kinds of programs cost significant money. Terminating them would shrink government significantly. Imagine our nation without them. Picture a time without social security. I know many elderly folk who live off of that small income alone. Without it, they literally would have no income. And if you take away their Medicare, many would face astronomical medical bills. And, given their health issues and age, no other insurance would ever take them. That would be a stupid business decision. So what happens to them? They would die miserable deaths in abject poverty. So the argument might go, "that is their fault. They should have saved for retirement." All well and good unless during your working years you live so close to the edge that you must make choices between food and heat.

Imagine if we did away with unemployment, as meager as it is, for that 9+% of people who are not able to find a job? What would happen to them and their families? Our current economic structure requires that somebody be out of work... what should happen to those people?

Imagine an infrastructure that has completely disintegrated as government spending on roads, bridges, public transportation, etc. disappeared completely.

Imagine nobody ever checking food or drugs for safety. Every trip to the grocery store might be a game of Russian Roulette. Think of cars without any safety features. Imagine no public utilities. Picture businesses polluting communities and poisoning workers with no constraints because no government agency is looking over their shoulders.

Imagine no public higher education and perhaps even no public schools at all.

Those are all scenarios that Tea Party candidates have endorsed.

Yes... taxes would be much lower... but it is not a world where I want to live.


Tim Holtorf said...

It is refreshing to see such views that push social issues into light coming from someone who is Christian. There needs to be more Christian people who believe in this to come forward and be heard.

Donna said...

All those things you mentioned to come out of the federal government in order to comply with the spirit of the Constitution AND THEN GO INTO THE STATE GOVERNMENTS.

Do you realize that your entire article is written from a federal-or-nothing perspective? Where are the 50 states in your imaginings? Do they just impotently wring their hands?

I think it is possible that if your thought processes were continued to their extremes, that we might need to change the name of our country from the "United States of America" to the "Federal Aministrative Districts of America."

Try rewriting your article! Change the opening sentence of your second paragraph --
"The arguments for small government come..."

Requested change:
"The arguments for moving the social programs out of the federal government and into the state governments..."

roy said...


thanks for your comment. Unfortunately, I have never once heard any of the folk arguing against these federal programs say that responsibility for them would be picked up by the state governments. In effect, if the federal government didn't do them, they wouldn't happen.

Tod said...

Roy, I agree with Donna.

The federal government has co-opted the responsibilities of the states and deemed that every state must be equal. In the true spirit of capitalism, the states should "compete" for residents.

I'd be curious to see how many people would willingly move to a state that provided everything to everyone at the expense of the resident taxpayers. Would you live there??

roy said...

Tod, I don't know what you mean by "everything," but I can speak to a couple of issues... yes, I would gladly see my taxes go up for universal health care. Indeed, I think that is where we will and must end up eventually. And yes, I believe health care is a basic right. I would also gladly see my taxes go up for better public education all the way through college.

Tod said...

I think it comes down to my basic distrust of the competency of government -- I would choose a different path.

Of course universal health care is a wonderful ideal (though I would argue that it is NOT a "right"), but what is the best way to achieve it??

If you look at health care and health care insurance today, most of the expense is due to the extraordinary burdens placed upon the providers and insurers by, you guessed it, the government.

A better path is to make changes that actually reduce government involvement, encourage competition among states, and produce better products.

As for education, I've seen my taxes go up and the quality of the education provided to my children go DOWN to the point that I pulled my last child out of the public system and put her in a private system.

Does that make sense that I'm paying more for an inferior product???

roy said...

Tod, I don't necessarily trust in the competency of government, or at least of our current government. How in the world can we trust an institution when almost 1/2 of the people setting policy there have a belief that it should not be doing what it is doing? At the same time, I have no trust that the "free market" will meet the basic needs of everyone. Business is just not designed to do so. Go back to universal health care... there are some folk who just cost too much for any business model to accept them. And I wouldn't agree that government burdens are the cause of most of the escalation in medical costs.

As for education, again, there is no question that the system is not what it should be, but imagine a country where we abandon that commitment. In many ways we are already lagging behind much of the world in education, if we gave up completely, we'd end up as bad as many developing nations and the social and economic problems would be enormous.

So Tod, I am not completely trusting of government either. Indeed, we would likely agree regarding the incompetence of much of it. And we likely have similar faith, or lack thereof in the people who make up such agencies. Where we differ is that I literally see no other possibility except government to fulfill those essential pieces in our society. While you would like to experiment with those needs being met in some other way, I would argue that we work on the institution we have and make it work the way, I believe, it is supposed to work.

Tod said...

OK, let's break down the discussion a little:

"I wouldn't agree that government burdens are the cause of most of the escalations in medical costs."

McCarran-Ferguson Act (1945) gives states the right to regulate health care plans within their state. This is government involvement creating an artificially small marketplace for health insurance.

So in this artificially small marketplace, all premiums for a given state must cover all insured within that state. Not the best model for distributing cost across a pool of policy holders. This model keeps costs high in places where claims are high instead of allowing the free market business to distribute those costs nationally. Example: January 2006 the Commonwealth Fund reported that nearly identical policies for a 25 year old male cost (annually) $960 in KY, $5880 in NJ, $1548 in KS, $5172 in NY, $1692 in IA, $4032 in MA.

Second, state mandated benefits have a direct impact on premiums. In California, for example, everyone must contribute to the pool of premiums to cover things like Fertility treatments, alcoholism, acupuncture. Without state mandated benefits, people could by policies that cover only catastrophic illnesses and pay everything else out of pocket.

Third, the government required community rating also drives up costs. You cannot charge a healthy person less than a non-healthy person. Why not?? While I wouldn't necessarily eliminate community rating for everything (cancer, for example), there are situations where it encourages unhealthy habits (obesity related illnesses like diabetes).

Government helped to create the problem, now they claim to have the solution??

This doesn't even begin to cover the costs associated with government regulation of medicine via the FDA. If you don't think government burdens cause "most" of the escalation in health care costs, then what do you think does cause it??