Friday, February 20, 2015

More Reasons to Like the Government

Got a joke for you.
How many government bureaucrats does it take to screw in a light bulb?  Two.  One to assure everyone that everything possible is being done to correct the problem, the other to screw the light bulb into the water faucet.

I've written in other notes how one of the more pernicious lies created by the conservatives is that the American government is a ham-handed fumbler that has a poor record of achievement.  Conservatives (and their puppets, the Libertarians -- more about them in another note) are constantly promoting the idea that the government is so incompetent and unsuited to actually govern that it couldn't find its own collective ass with a flashlight, a road map, and a detailed set of directions.  They've been telling this lie so often and so loudly and for so long that people who are otherwise sane and intelligent have come to believe it.

A lot of Americans have accepted this image of the American government as a collection of corrupt, incompetent, bungling clowns.  Ask most Americans and they will tell you that if you want something really screwed up, hand it over to the government.  According to a Time Magazine survey, only 4% of all Americans say that they have a lot of confidence in the government to solve problems.  Nearly 64% said "No confidence at all" or "Just a little confidence."  Three our of four called the government "Incompetent" regardless of the complexity and the difficulty of the problem involved.  Nearly 70% said that government "creates more problems than it solves."

Conservative talking head Sean Hannity once said, "The more important question isn't why government is so big, but why it fails at everything."  Another conservative, Charles Murray, said, "The reality of daily life is that the things government does tend to be ugly, rude, slovenly, and do not work."  Rush Limbaugh, on one of his radio shows, once said, "With the exception of the military, I defy you to name one government program that has worked and alleviated the problem it was created to solve."

The truth, though, is different.

Once we begin to look at the actual performance of major governmental programs, what we find is that the vast majority of them not only solved the problems they were designed to solve, but improved on them and insured that the problem would never arise again.

This of course flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but it is nonetheless the truth.  The evidence is there, if anyone bothered to look.

So, can I, as Rush Limbaigh demanded, name "just one government program that's worked to alleviate the problem it was created to solve?"

Challenge accepted, Mr. Limbaugh.  I can not only name one, I can name ten.  And if I really, really felt like it, I could name thousands more.

1.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC):  In the 1970s, the Federal government began to pass laws that protected consumers from shoddy and dangerous products.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission remains the primary agency that enforces these laws.  And do not think for one minute that it is no longer needed.  Consumer products still kill over 20,000 people a year, and injure over 20 million more.  If the CPSC did not recall thousands of dangerous products each year, these numbers would be far higher.  It is estimated that its actions save over $10 billion in health care bills, property damage, and other costs associated with these defective products.

2.  The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC):  Everyone takes this one for granted.  This is federal protection for our bank accounts.  In times of eonomic downturn, banks are inherently vulnerable to "runs" -- times when worried depositors all seek to take every cent they have out of the bank all at the same time.  During the Great Depression, nearly 5000 banks went bust, and millions of Americans lost everything they had, because of this practice.  During the financial crisis of 2008, there were no runs on banks, because the government was there to guarantee the safety of people's bank deposits.

3.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA):  This is another agency that the corporations, especially the pharmaceutical companies, complain about, mainly because it is doing its job.  Americans alive today have no idea how hazardous it was prior to the creation of the FDA to simply eat, or take medicine.  The FDA makes sure that the medicine millions of people take every single day actually does what it says it does.  And it makes sure our food supply is healthy and uncontaminated.  The American public is safer and healthier because of it.

4.  The GI Bill:  Without this program, the middle class as we know it today simply would not exist.  At all.  The GI Bill provides governmental support that allows millions of our veterans to attent college.  On a personal level, it allowed me to become the first member of my generation to get a college degree in my family.  The people who received these benefits, starting with the veterans of World War II, changed the face of American society by drastically raising the level of education, and thus the level of productivity and social discourse, in this country.

5.  The Interstate Highway System:  The interstate highways are the backbone of this nation, and modern America could not function without it.  The hundreds of thousands of miles of highway only make up about 2% of the total roadway mileage, but every single day of every single year it carries almost 30% of all roadway traffic in this country.  The interstates have allowed millions of Americans to move away from the cities and live in more pleasant suburban and small town environments.  They are statistically more safe than more traditional roadways, saving hundreds of thousands of lives each year.  Conservative George Will once called it, "the most successful public works program in the history of the human race."  The interstate system has become a part of the lives of each and every American, and I, for one, could not imagine the United States without it.  And without the government, it would never have existed.

6.  The National Weather Service (NWS):  This agency does more than just provide a daily weather forecast.  It also helps insure the safety of planes in the air and ships at sea, and has saved countless lives with its hurricane and tornado warnings.  The science behind its actions is getting better every year, and its predictions have been getting more and more accurate as time's past.

7.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA):  Businesses love to complain about OSHA and its rules.  Turns out, the people who actually work at OSHA take pride in being complained about, because they say that's how they know they're doing their jobs.  Sure, sometimes the policies have been a bit overboard, but at the same time its very clearly been effective and successful.  In 1970, the year before President Richard Nixon (a conservative Republican, remember) created OSHA, over 22 million people were injured on the job and over 14,000 died from job-related injuries.  Since 1970 and 2013, workplace deaths and injuries have decreased by 96%.  Particularly impressive has been the virtual eradication of cases of brown lung disease, which was once the leading cause of death among textile workers.

8.  Public Health Programs:  There have been a variety of programs overseen by the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and state and local Public Health Departments that have greatly and dramatically improved the level of health of every single American.  Just to name a few, the scourges of polio, cholera, and smallpox have been effectively exterminated.  Vaccination programs have effectively ended the risks of a random person contracting diseases like hepatitis, measles, mumps, tetanus, rubella, and diptheria by nearly 95%.  Federal funding spent on buying and distributing these vaccines have saved countless lives and will go on to save countless more, and have saved billions of dollars that would otherwise be spent fighting these illnesses.  In addition, the CDC is what stands between the American people and potentially catastrophic epidemics imported from other countries.

9.  The Settlement of the Western United States:  Very few people realize this, but the development of the West was basically a huge government program.  It was that way from the very beginning, starting with the federally funded journey of exploration undertaken by Lewis and Clarke.  It continued with the unfortunate "Indian Removal Program" that, despite being one of the greatest crimes this country has ever committed, directly led to more settlers entering the western territories.  The government sold public land to homesteaders in Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas to encourage development, and in some cases (in Oklahoma especially) gave it away for free.  The railroads, which were the most direct cause of growth in the West, were federally subsidized projects.  And even today, farming in the west is made possible by federal water management projects, ranching is possible because of the use of federal lands for grazing by ranchers, and mining is possible by dirt cheap access to federal lands.  Cities like Los Angeles and Las Vegas would dry up and blow away if it weren't for federally funded dam and canal projects that bring water to those metropoli.  Its ironic that so much of the country's anti-government sentiment is based in this area, because without the federal government, this area would be an uninhabited wasteland.

10.  Social Security and Medicare:  Without these two programs, growing old would be a living hell for most Americans.  Before these two programs, starving to death was a real possibility for millions of the elderly.  Social Security cut the rate of poverty for the elderly by half (the rate was 29% in 1966; as of 2013 the rate is 10%).  Economist Jane Bryant Quinn described Social Security as "arguably the greatest success story for the US government".  Medicare shares a similar success.  It has doubled the number of elderly people covered by health insurance so that 99% of all people over the age of 60 now enjoy that benefit.  Without this program, 15 million of our poorest citizens would be going without medical care entirely, or would be forced to choose between health care and eating.

So, there you have it, Mr. Limbaugh.  And like I said, I could have named thousands more governmental programs that worked just as planned, and did the job they were created to do.

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