Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Government works for those who pay attention


    America’s middle class believes the common wisdom that government doesn’t work. We would be better off if we believed H.L. Mencken instead. He said, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
    When asked what happens if the federal government decides to solve a problem, two-thirds of those polled will answer that nothing much happens. Conversations about politics among non-policy wonks consistently reflect the notion that there is no reason to pay attention to what gov-ernment does—or does not do.
    After America came out of the Depres-sion to win World War II, citizens across the political spectrum generally believed in the power of government to help sup-port the values and lifestyle of the bur-geoning middle class. In the 1980s, how-ever, the mood began to sour.
    President Ronald Reagan tapped into anti-government sentiment in his first inaugural address when he famously said, “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
    Inexorably, that attitude took hold, be-came dominant, and eventually resulted in talk-show host Rush Limbaugh being rela-tively unchallenged when he makes com-ments like, “With the exception of the military, I defy you to name one govern-ment program that has worked and allevi-ated the problem it was created to solve.”
    The fact is that government does work; it just doesn’t work the same for everyone.
    The Department of Agriculture doesn’t work too well for people who need food stamps or public schools that serve break-fast and lunch to needy children. It works just fine, however, for corporate farms that rake in crop subsidies.
    Government doesn’t work so well for taxpayers who’re being forced to cover the rising costs of drugs in health-care pro-grams, but it works great for pharmaceu-tical companies protected by law from having to negotiate lower prices.
    It doesn’t work so well for public ser-vants who have lost jobs and benefits. It works great for the private prison indus-try and the quasi-military contractors who fill those same jobs with lower-wage work-ers with fewer benefits, and then pocket the difference.
    Reagan’s well-turned phrase and the glib pronouncements of talk-show hosts have been a smokescreen that successfully urged the public to turn its back while corporations, industry associations and special-interest groups spent billions on lobbyists to make the government work for them.
    The fact is that the government does work. Who it works for is mostly a matter of who shows up and who speaks out. Citi-zens must speak up or be ruled by those whose interests run counter to their own.




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