Thursday, January 15, 2015

Moynihan: "Programs are for People"

At the end of a "balanced" article about the programs of 1965, Medicare, Medicaid and SSDI, and how they are eating the federal budget, Charles Lane in The Wasthington Post quotes Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 1970:
Programs are for people, not for bureaucracies.
"Tell that to the IRS," says a commenter. And that's the truth. You start a government program, and the bureaucrats will eventually eat it for lunch. Charles Dickens knew that a century before the Great Society when he put the government's Circumlocution Office and its bureaucrats, the Barnacles and the Stiltstockings, into his novel Little Dorrit. The motto of the Circumlocution Office, Dickens wrote, was "How not to do it."

In the US we talk about the "iron triangle" of Congress, bureaucracy, and interest groups. But really the problem is We the People. All governments run on the principle of handing out free stuff to their supporters, and our government is no exception. The iron triangle is jusst the way we do it in America.

So the words of the young policy intellectual Pat Moynihan are baloney. Programs are for the government's supporters, Pat, old chap, and that includes the bureaucrats and their pensions. Forget the bloody people.

In the end, of course, The People realize they've been had, although they usually don't really figure out why. That's what the Tea Party was all about.

When you are an immigrant to the city you want free stuff in the form of free education, Social Security, welfare, health care, and housing allowances. And you vote Democrat.

But when you have learned to thrive in the city then free stuff looks a bit different. The Tea Party chaps wanted to cut government and screw the bailouts, but they certainly reckoned they'd paid for their middle-class entitlements in full, and deserved to get them paid out in full. And the Tea Partiers vote Republican.

Meanwhile what about the bailouts to bankers and auto companies?

We can't really do anything about the government spending crisis until the great mass of people rebel against the middle-class entitlements. And maybe they never will. They'd have to be a chap like me, and say look, cash me out, pay me the present value of my Social Security benefits that I've already paid for in a special issue of US Treasury Bonds, and then leave me alone.

But you can see that an ordinary big-company employee that likes her big-company pension and benefits isn't going to vote for a solution like that. That's because, for all we talk about freedom, we mostly want to tuck ourselves up in a life-time job with pensions and benefits. We'll only give it up when they take it out of our cold dead hands.

But there is hope. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is now Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which means he's the most powerful man in the House, after the leadership. And Paul Ryan has plans for the middle-class entitlements.

Even the liberal VOX website run by young Ezra Klein recognizes that it's a big deal that Ryan is Chairman of House Ways and Means and that he has decided not to run for president. They remind us that it is Congress that passes the laws, and that Ryan has been defining the agenda of the Republican Party for the past few years from his perch as Chairman of the House Budget Committee.

On the Budget Committee you can set an agenda but you can't enact it. On the House Ways and Means you can, especially with a Republican President and a Republican Senate.

What Rep. Ryan needs to persuade us, if he wants to reform entitlements, is that "programs are for people" is a crock. Government is force, and politics is civil war by other means. The only thing that government knows how to do is to go to war. It may go to war on poverty, as LBJ did in the Sixties, or on Islamists, or as with the Obama Justice Department, on gun dealers. But it's always a war.

Only one problem with governments and their wars. We humans are social animals. Within our communities we are supposed to be about cooperation, not force.

If we want to make America great again then we must hand the government programs over to the people and put the people to work on them. You'll be amazed at the difference.

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