Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The problem and the solution

In his first inaugural address, President Reagan delivered the famous, if nonsensical line, "Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem."

Government is an easy target. If a bridge falls into the river, even when we have demanded tax cuts instead of allocating money for infrastructure, it is the government's fault.

If an airplane has to land without instructions from the tower because we cannot fund the necessary controllers, it is because government is the problem. There are no exceptions—not Medicaid, not Medicare and certainly not Social Security.

It's hard to go after Social Security. People overwhelmingly like it as it continues to do what it was intended to do, provide a safety net for those over 62 years old. It so clearly works, month after month sending benefits to those we see and know, who because of it are able to live independent, meaningful lives. But to remain faithful to the Reagan vision, the true believers must try to find some governmental wrong here.

Try No. 1: Wouldn't we all do better if we were to privatize the Social Security system so that citizens could invest their own retirement funds instead of depending on the incompetent, if not evil, government?

Unfortunately for those trying to make this case, the stock market dropped 50 percent while Social Security retirement benefits escaped the wild ride of a crazy market.

Try No. 2: From talk radio to The Wall Street Journal comes the message that Social Security is in crisis, on the verge of bankruptcy, so once again government has failed us. The threat is, of course, fictitious. Social Security is not on the verge of anything other than successfully continuing its mission.

What is true is that if the economy grows at the robust rates it has turned in under Democratic administrations, rather than the puny rate of growth experienced during the last three "government-is-the-problem" administrations, we will all be better off and will have little difficulty meeting our obligations, including Social Security.

Most of the time government works and works well. In our complex society with complicated problems, government may sometimes be the only answer.

After all, who else in our country can take on the task of insuring the uninsured? How else can we provide for all of our elderly? And whom else should we trust with securing our liberty? If not our democratically elected government, then who?

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