Monday, August 24, 2009

"Smash the State!", cried the state

I've observed the American health care "debate" with mingled bemusement and dismay. Since I have a Canadian health card, it's not terribly serious to me. It's a bit dismaying however that the fact that there are good arguments to be made for and against health insurance reform in the United States isn't compelling anybody to actually make them in public.

This week's really lame argument is: the government can't run a health insurance plan because the post office is failing. Barack Obama, stupidly, played into this by saying, "I mean, if you think about it, UPS and FedEx are doing just fine. It's the Post Office that's always having problems." Michael Steele followed suit by arguing that a government health care plan, "is inefficient, limits choices, and hemorrhages taxpayer money like the Post Office." This apparently stems from the fact that the Post Office is indeed losing money and might have to go to five days a week, which seems to upset people. But, of course, the Post Office is losing money- people send emails now. And, yes, they might have to go to five days- which is the norm in several other countries, including Canada. Times change. Why shouldn't they cut back and save money? What does that have to do with the failure of government? Say what you want about the Post Office, but I've always gotten good service from them, and usually for a lot less money than UPS charges. Maybe I've sold out to the establishment, man, but I'm actually happy sending letters through the mail.

Besides, the larger argument, which you hear quite often now: government = bad, is a cop out coming from government officials. Look, I have plenty of friends who are libertarians or anarchists or variations of the two who genuinely do believe that government an sich is the problem and who try to form alternative institutions to circumvent state institutions. I tend towards that argument myself from time to time. But, when you're a government official arguing that "government is the problem" what you're basically saying is, "When I do something right, give me credit; when I screw up, it was the government's fault."

It's also pretty cynical. It reminds me of this assistant professor we had in our department for a few years. Now, I complain about academia and all of its problems quite often; but I do so because I believe in the ideal of the university and want the reality to more closely approximate that ideal. A lot of academics feel that way. With this guy, he just believed that the university an sich is, like bullshit, man, and so the trick is to try to scam them for as much money as one can. He would tell the grad students that we should lie on grant applications to get more money, come up with provocative arguments, even if they weren't true, to sell more books, and suggest ways to avoid actual teaching. In the end, he basically alienated himself from everyone in the department and went elsewhere. He did "succeed" though: he was there for three years and taught only one course.

And, you know, the government does screw up a lot of things. I'm not particularly optimistic about their future endeavors either. But it's hard to overstate the intellectual bankruptcy of government officials whose central argument has become, "We don't really have any ideas or a program for the future, but that's a good thing because government sucks." If they really feel that way, they should go work for UPS.


The Pagan Temple said...

I get your point, but what they're saying, if not too well, is that somebody has to get in there and reform things from the inside, in this case by shrinking the size of government, or at the very least reducing the rate of growth. Unfortunately, as we've seen all too often, it rarely ends up that way. Once they get the power, it tends to affect them in every bit the same way as it does the proponents of increased government involvement. It's just next to impossible to get a bunch of people who want to get elected in a position where suddenly they control the purse strings of what amounts to trillions of dollars, and expect that they are not going to want to utilize those vast resources for the benefit of their particular patrons in their own voting districts. So they find reasons and excuses as to why their own particular efforts at vote buying isn't big government, it's "giving the people back the money they paid into the system", etc. It's just a never ending vicious circle, and I have no doubt it will be no different the next time they get in there.

Rufus said...

Right, that's the thing- I remember Reagan getting elected on that platform back when I was a child. Now, it's been nearly 30 years of politicians claiming they're going to shrink the beast and then completely failing to do so. In fact, much the opposite. Every new administration brings some new crusade and some huge apparatus to go with it. Like they say: War is the health of the state.

Meanwhile, I've found myself on a number of mailing lists for these groups- Dick Armey's group seems to send these emails twice a week. And what's annoying to me is that there will be some problem that needs fixing, and the Dems will say, "Okay, here's our half-assed plan to solve it!" and the Republicans will say, "No! Nobody do anything! We need to stop them before they do anything!"

After I got my nineteenth-or-so email about how we need to "Stop the stimulus!" I finally emailed them and asked, "So, what exactly is your plan here? Should the government let the economy tank? Or do you have any better ideas than this stimulus program?" But, nope, apparently not. It's easy to march around with signs and teabags; not so easy to actually come up with any ideas.

It's like this with everything. The recession? Oh, that was the government's fault- let's not do anything about it. Health care? Oh, the system's totally functional- let's not do anything about it.* Global warming? Oh, that was a myth the so-called 'scientists' made up to take our money- let's not do anything about it. War? Oh, well, let's keep doing that!

I think a lot of people feel the way I do- frustrated with how half-assed a job the Democrats have been doing, but also dismayed that the "opposition" party has nothing to offer aside from lame denialism and a promise that, if elected, they won't fix anything. I do believe that.

But, honestly, at some level, I really am optimistic that the future could be better than the present. I think that lots of things suck, including the government, but that there's still a possibility to make them better. So it's really just that, on some level, getting behind the GOP feels too much like saying, "I give up!"

*Note: I know they've suggested tort reform recently. It would have been a great suggestion a year ago.

The Pagan Temple said...

They've always been heavy into tort reform, that's nothing new. The problem is, it would solve very little. It would help, but that's such a small piece of the pie it doesn't amount to much.

What annoys me about the GOP is that I honestly do believe a good lot of the stuff they preach, when it comes to federalism and small government. I just don't think many of them really do.

What really sucks is, in order to get a crop of GOP candidates who might be most likely to follow through on their stated beliefs in that regard, it would require a three part plan on my part.

1. Register Republican so I can vote in Republican primaries.

2. When it comes time for the Republican primaries, study up on all the GOP candidates and pick out the ones most likely to want to burn me at the stake.

3. Vote for them.

rufus said...

I remember someone once saying (probably Tocqueville) that the problem in a democracy is that the people will eventually figure out that they can just vote to give themselves money from the common chest, so eventually the state will run out of money and the democratic experiment will come to an end. I thought it was a funny line at the time. Not so much now.