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The New York Times recently characterized the Obama administration’s near panicked efforts to fix the Affordable Care Act website as,
“…a frantic effort aimed at rescuing not only the insurance portal and Mr. Obama’s credibility, but also the Democratic philosophy that an activist government can solve big, complex social problems.”
Every now and then, the New York Times serves a useful purpose. In that sentence, the writer encapsulated the fundamental difference between conservatives and liberals.
Conservatives believe that government is inefficient and wasteful and competent in its basic functions only to the extent that there is no alternative to government in those functions.
Liberals believe that there is no societal ill that does not call for a massive dose of government – despite now four full generations of compelling evidence to the contrary.
As just one example of such evidence, let’s examine the “War on Poverty” undertaken by Lyndon Johnson starting in 1964.
The War on Poverty was a part of the larger effort of the Johnson administration that came to be called the “Great Society.” It was a 1960s update of FDR’s New Deal.
Among the laws enacted to eradicate poverty were the Social Security Act of 1965, which gave us Medicare and Medicaid, the Food Stamp Act of 1964, which institutionalized federal food assistance and the Elementary & Secondary Education Act of 1965, which exponentially increased federal involvement in local schools.
It would be incorrect to say that these programs failed. Millions of Americans count on Medicare and Medicaid. Food stamps have, in millions of cases, done exactly what they were designed to do – provide emergency food assistance during times of exigent need.
In hundreds of cases, the Elementary & Secondary Education Act has provided funds to improve schools that might otherwise have suffered for lack of money from local sources.
But it is equally incorrect to say that these programs have been an unqualified success. Medicare and Medicaid are so egregiously underfunded as to threaten the very financial health of the nation.
There are estimates that say that as many as half of all food stamp recipients today would not qualify for food stamps under the program’s original guidelines. The program has morphed well beyond its original mission of meeting exigent, emergency need. For millions, food stamps have become a way of life that is passed from one generation to the next.
The degeneration of American public schools into their current horrendous state is directly traceable to increased federal involvement in, and frequent outright control of, local school districts – the product of both legislative intervention like the act of 1965 together with massive activist judicial intervention.
On balance, these liberal programs, enacted as they were with the best of intentions, have either at best carried out their mandates at unsustainable cost or at worst have actually made the problems they were intended to solve manifestly worse.
The problem for conservatives who oppose such overweening federal programs is that the unsustainable costs and the unintended consequences only become evident over a period of years or even decades.
Such, however, has not been the case with respect to Obamacare. Its unsustainability and unintended consequences became evident almost immediately. Unlike food stamps and Medicare, the wheels came off the Obamacare bus the moment it hit the road.
When the War on Poverty began, the poverty rate in the U.S. stood at 16 percent. Today, nearly half a century on, the U.S. poverty rate still stands at 16 percent – while one in six Americans now depends on the government for basic nutrition and America’s students are among the lowest performing in the developed world.
Seven decades of trying has generally shown that government is largely incapable of solving big, complex social problems.
The good news with respect to Obamacare is that that incapability, for once, revealed itself in real time.