What the Feds Should Do—and Not Do

Republicans and Democrats are in complete agreement that the federal government should do what is necessary—and nothing more.

The question is, what does that mean? What exactly determines which are the things the federal government should do something about, and which should be left to individuals or the states. The best answer is that the federal government should do those things most efficiently done at a national level. This is precisely the Republican position from half a century ago. But not today.

Contrary to current Republican beliefs, there are hundreds of such things, among them building and maintaining the national highway system, managing of all aspects of public broadcasting, control of the aeronautical system, the national electric grid, the military, and so on, all of which were part of the Republican platforms of the 1950s.

The federal government
should do what is necessary
—and nothing more.

But Republicans are saying today that all these things should be done by private enterprise.

Not many things could be more naive and dangerous. You may recall that industrial waste in the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland regularly caught fire in the 1950s. Only after the EPA was formed, and it demanded that the water be cleaned up, did the fires stop and the fish return.

There are those who regularly rail against the EPA, calling their actions an unnecessary and costly intrusion on their private business. I suspect people who believe this have not visited foreign countries where there is little such protection. In China, for instance, virtually everyone’s health is seriously compromised by foul air, and many people die because of that. This is what things can look like in broad daylight with no EPA.


We should assist the development of new industries. All of our important industries received this protection when they were young. Today is no different. It may be more important, because today commerce is global and rapid, and industries in other large countries are often subsidized by their governments. Alternative energy companies are a good example of industry that can only become more important over time. We must either protect such nascent industries or surrender any hope of competing either at home or on the world market.

But support should end when they become mature and self-sufficient. Often it does not. The prime example is the petroleum industry, which continues collecting billions of federal dollars every year, even though the need for this support ended at least 75 years ago. Another case is agriculture. Billions have gone to enormous agricultural businesses who never had a need for it, while small farmers for whom the support was intended have lost out.

Politicians cannot claim to want less government and at the same time support these outdated massive diversions of our money to industries that don’t need it. Unfortunately, they have hundreds of lobbyists, and contribute heavily toward re-election of their supporters.

Politicians cannot claim
to want less government
while supporting
diversions of our money
to wealthy corporations.

The public education system seems designed to perpetuate inequality because it is (partly) funded by local property taxes. I have come to believe that every public school student nationwide should receive the same funding to overcome this structural inequality, and this could only be accomplished with a national plan. Poor states don’t have enough money to fund schools properly, which is another factor perpetuating unequal opportunity and the intellectual quagmire that is the Old South. It is an important topic for national debate.

At present we are moving in exactly the wrong direction, with constant efforts to do away with our longstanding commitment to universal free, tax funded public education. Charter schools are but one manifestation of this trend, in which a public school is managed by a private corporation. Charters have not been proven superior. Others include the home schooling fad, which may or may not provide a reasonable education, and numerous attempts to make public education into religious instruction. This includes frequent attempts to quash the teaching of objective science in favor of creationism.

Is there any merit to the claim that
private insurance is superior
to a national plan?
Frankly, no.

The hottest topic, of course, is health care. Is there any merit to the conservative belief that private medical care insurance is superior to a national plan? Is there any merit to the idea that national health care would send us rapidly down the chute into socialism?

No, and no. Conservatives have been warning about the slippery slope to socialism since before Lincoln, and there isn’t the slightest hint of socialism over all that time. Their real fear is that the profit margin of private medicine might be trimmed. Under the Affordable Care Act, costs are lower, but the longer term comparison of cost has repeatedly shown our private medical costs to be literally double what other countries pay.

The much-lamented delays in health care appointments that conservatives lately claim for national health care plans either don’t exist or are no worse than under private plans in the US. One can get a quick appointment for profitable procedures such as knee replacement in the US, and wealth somehow opens doors, but other care takes longer than in a number of other countries.

More importantly, the US has worse outcomes than national plans in child mortality, diabetes, heart disease, and lifespan, among others. Year after year, the systems rated the world’s best are national systems, such as those in France and the Scandinavian countries.

Year after year,
the systems rated the best
are national systems.

The most tragic difference, however, is that millions of people in the US have no insurance at all because they can’t afford it. Not having health care insurance costs many lives literally every day because disease conditions go untreated until it’s too late. Medical bankruptcy from lack of insurance, the most common type, can too easily cause the loss of a family’s home and belongings, and cancellation of education plans for the younger generation, as well as an unnecessary death from delayed treatment. These multi-generation family disasters could be prevented entirely with universal insurance.

While health statistics have improved under the ACA, they are unchanged in states where the Republican governor has purposely prevented people from obtaining ACA insurance, thus intentionally—and I believe criminally—causing thousands of deaths. I see no difference between them and sadistic prison wardens who withhold treatment until a prisoner dies.

A system that allows this to happen can in no way be called superior.

Conservative talking points are simply wrong. Yes, if you are among the fortunate who have good insurance, such as the subsidized plans that members of Congress have, your medical care can be excellent. But if you are at the other end of the spectrum, even a common illness can easily bring death and family ruin.

Conservatives tend to believe that the federal government is by nature incapable of doing a good job at virtually anything. Hundreds of efficient and effective programs contradict this belief. Moreover, their belief is contrary to past Republican positions. Health care insurance is an area where they have most completely been proven wrong, yet the evidence has done nothing to alter the current Republican mindset.


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