This is the third in a series by aaa.again, the nom de plume of a frequent commenter who has agreed to be a contributing writer. He writes from the perspective of decades of success in business, finance and entrepreneurial enterprise. Learn about him on the About Us page.
We Voters Tell Pollsters We Want Change.
Do We Really?
It’s a nice thing to say, “change.” But voters continue to pull the lever election after election for politicians who claim they will solve the very same problems that have vexed us for years. But the fact is that those problems just never get resolved. Pull out a speech by a politician from 15, 25, 45 years ago and you will see them promising to solve almost the same list 2008 crop promises! How do we explain this behavior?
The failure of government to “solve” problems is not due to any shortage of government spending. The chart below shows the growth in population and federal spending, adjusted for inflation since 1965, when “The Great Society” package of shiny new government programs was created to “win the war on poverty.”
We hear from the left that the military soaks up most of the government’s resources leaving crumbs for social problems. Yet, as the chart shows, the growth in military spending is dwarfed by the growth in other programs. And, the additional military spending bought tangible benefits: an end to the draft, a better trained, all-volunteer force, and astonishing new technologies that didn’t exist in the sixties, and have dramatically reduce casualties.
This 500% increase in non-defense spending is only for the Federal government!! I doubt anyone’s state, local and property taxes are going down. By any reasonable measure government has plenty of resources.
What do we have to show for this spending binge? Has government put “an end to poverty?” Not yet, even after billions and billions in expenditures. Has it “fixed health care?” No. Sixty year old government programs like Medicare are going broke, and in the current campaign candidates are promising yet again to fix the problem.
How about pensions? Social security is in constant need of triage, which really means another round of tax increases. “Energy independence?” Obviously not. “Better education?” The government already largely controls our failing school system, but the high school drop out rate in cities is 50%, and here in Chicago public school kids routinely have to duck from bullets. Not a good report card if you ask me.
How about “protecting jobs and creating competitiveness?” I don’t think so. For decades we’ve heard politicians routinely berating corporations for their greed in making profits, and promising to raise their tax rates and regulatory burden, while telling workers this will lead to more jobs. How’s that been working out?
And our infrastructure? Well, only after we finish with the pet pork projects. And so it goes.
Government has not worked and is not working. It is larger than ever, soaking up more taxes than ever, and is more intrusive in our lives than ever. But it is not solving problems. The fact that politicians are running on the same old platform to solve the same old problems tells you this.
Government is simply ineffective at all but a few select tasks, and that’s a pattern that has persisted for at least the 50+ years since the first round of The Great Society. And yet amazingly we have one candidate, Barack Obama, who is essentially running on the same, Great Society platform this year. “This time it will be different,” you see. That’s his “change,” I guess.
I am not a zero government, zero tax anarchist. There is a place for government. But all our experience suggests that it should be limited, and a last resort. And we should demand results, or refuse to let government posture as the solution. I ask any reader of this essay: is there any credible evidence that government can more effectively spend the national income – your income – by taxing it away from you to be spent by Washingtonians?? This is not intended to be a cute question. It’s a simple, straightforward and honest question. What do you say?
So how do we explain the voter’s attitude toward government? As I have noted, they keep pulling the lever for every new politician who comes along promising to be the one to finally solve all their problems. We’re told that one definition of intelligence is to not make the same mistake over and over. Is the American Voter stupid? I don’t think so. Actually, I believe quite the opposite. So again, how do we explain this?
I end with an unfortunate conclusion, and a recommendation. First, as best I can decipher, a large number of Americans have developed an incredible sense of entitlement, and in fact are perfectly willing to use the taxing mechanism of the State to enrich themselves at the expense of their neighbor. We have a euphemism for this: “voting your interest.” That sounds nice. But it is just old style “beggar thy neighbor” politics. “You’ve got money, I want your money (or I want to spend your money on my pet issues) and my vote can make that happen.” Politicians nurture, encourage and count on this sense of entitlement
In addition, I have concluded that a large number of average American Voters – Republican or Democrat – are really just plain old partisans, masquerading as independent thinkers. It’s unfortunate, but despite how ineffectual or destructive government programs are, if they happen to be enacted or proposed by a particular voter’s party, they are viewed as “good.” It’s the “hooray for our side” effect.
Here is some unsolicited advice. I have no idea if John McCain and Sarah Palin can actually bring reform to Washington. It’s a tough town with entrenched interests. But the simple fact is that they are the only ones with a record and reputation as reformers; they are the only ones talking reform. Any voter really fed up with Washington and who wants a shot at “change” needs to consider that very carefully when they go into the voting booth.
Otherwise, I can absolutely guarantee you this: a vote for the seductive taxing and spending protocol that Barack Obama offers means that 15 years from now another fresh candidate will come on the scene. Government will be bigger, taxes will be higher, and this candidate will promise “change” and a host of new government solutions to problems. The same old problems that former President Obama didn’t get fixed. History demonstrates this.
I guess this series of essays has looked like somewhat of a scolding of the American voter, and a defense of the natural behavior of politicians. It is not intended to be either. Rather, it is just a query about the observed odd behavior of voters, repeatedly beating their heads against the wall in search of “good government,” a utopia we never seem to achieve.
What’s the problem? I understand that the phrase was used many years ago, and in a different context, but I am afraid that the title of this series is the real answer to my question: “we have met the enemy, and he is us.”