Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Public trust and human suffering

Many who drop in here accuse me of believing that the government is key to solving all of our social problems and overcoming all of the challenges associated with poverty.

Why on earth would I believe that, especially in view of government performance over the past three decades?

What readers here confuse with a belief in government's ability to solve big problems, is my tendency to criticize what our government actually does or does not do in the face of many formidable issues.

I'll cite a few examples from recent news reports and national developments.

Case one: Last week I read a bewildering story about how the state of Mississippi plans to divert $600 million of hurricane housing relief funds to a port expansion project ("Katrina aid to be shifted to port," The Dallas Morning News, 14A, Saturday, January 26, 2008). The harbor at Gulfport sustained approximately $50 million in damages when Katrina swept through. Currently, 30,000 residents still live in FEMA trailers. The state believes that since there is "not enough funds to restore or rebuild all of the 169,000 homes in the state" that are in need of attention, the funds could be best used to undertake the massive port expansion.

Hmmm. Homeowners and residents versus big businesses at the ports. Any surprises here as to who wins?

Case two: The President and Congress are working on an economic stimulus plan to inject $150 billion into the American marketplace. The initial suggestion involved no economic benefit to the working poor who paid payroll taxes, but no income tax. The revised version that passed the U. S. House of Representatives on Tuesday contains benefits for the working poor. If the Senate concurs, it appears that around June 2008 millions of households will receive rebate checks ranging from $600 to $1,600.

The assumption is that these funds will be spent quickly and will provide our slumping economy a boost.

Hmmm. Apart from the basic problems associated with an economic system that depends on unbridled spending for sustainability, I am wondering who we might expect to spend this money more quickly? Will it be the family with annual earnings over $200,000? Or, will it be the family whose gross annual income is around $35,000? Where should the injection be targeted to be most effective?

Case three: A few years ago, I conducted a research project of sorts to determine 1) how many Dallas County residents who were eligible for Food Stamps were not enrolled in the food and nutrition program and 2) what the failure to enroll these qualified families was costing the retail grocery industry in the county. What I discovered was fairly amazing, at least to me.

Bottom line--Dallas County loses over $250 million annually in retail grocery sales because we don't sign up everyone who is eligible for Food Stamps. Talk about an ongoing economic stimulus package with public health, educational performance and family stability benefit added in for good measure. But, then, what do I know?

It is true. I do believe our governments could do more, much more.

But it is also true that much of what they do is not serving those who need it most. But, now we're talking philosophy.



chris said...

"When the economy does not need a rescue plan and gets one, it's called 'campaign spending'. And this 150 billion spending package is nothing more than campaign spending of both parties".--Rush

"Washington D.C. is a place where delusions go to thrive. That explains why congress and the president are now agreed on remedies that will not work, expending money they do not have, to fix a problem that may not exist."--Steve Chapman

Mikey said...

It seems to me that anyone who thinks that you believe the government is/should be the solution to all of society's ills has spent a lot of time and energy NOT listening to what you say...

Anonymous said...

If I have understood you, government is not THE solution to the problem of poverty, but it is a necessary participant. As you and readers on your blog have pointed out before, the entirety of church and non-profit spending on anti-poverty efforts is not even 1% of what the federal government spends on such efforts. As little as I personally like government solutions, they are an absolutely essential part of the equation. No one and nothing else can bring the needed resources to the table.

Larry James said...

Anonymous 1:55, you are exactly right. We won't get there without government participation and leadership. Can't be done. My beef is with the too little too late approach of the last three decades. Thanks for reflecting correctly what you've read here and what you've seen yourself.