[politics] The government is here to help

Ronald Reagan said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.'” This is virtually the founding tenet of modern movement conservatism. Combine this with anti-tax activist Grover Norquist’s oft-stated goal of cutting government in half, “to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub”, and you have the picture that many American voters have of the government today.

Somehow, people don’t seem to have any idea what the government does to help them.

If you or someone you love…

  • Is on Medicare/Medicaid or in the VA system, the government is helping you.
  • Is on social security, the government is helping you.
  • Attends (or ever attended) public school, the government is helping you.
  • Attends (or ever attended) a state college, the government is helping you.
  • Holds an FDIC-insured bank account, the government is helping you.
  • Has called 911 in an emergency, the government is helping you.
  • Has ridden in an ambulance, the government is helping you.
  • Flies on commercial airlines, the government is helping you.
  • Drives on a public road, the government is helping you.
  • Has survived an auto accident due to seatbelts or airbags, the government is helping you.
  • Has hired an exterminator to safely treat household pests with chemicals, the government is helping you.
  • Has been treated with FDA-approved medicines or procedures, the government is helping you.
  • Has ever sent or received postal mail, the government is helping you.
  • Has ever sent or received email, the government is helping you.
  • Drinks from a safe public water supply, the government is helping you.
  • Breathes clean air, the government is helping you.
  • Visits a National Park, the government is helping you.
  • Goes to a library, the government is helping you.
  • Lives in a home or apartment built to conform to fire safety codes, the government is helping you.

You get the idea. The list is virtually endless. And most of those are items with no inherent revenue stream, not subject to improvement by market forces. The government works for you, every day.

Even if you’re a rugged individualist shooting your dinner with your own ammo loads, the gunpowder, copper jackets and lead slugs came to your house via a uniformed federal employee traveling in a publicly-owned vehicle over public roads, sent by manufacturers empowered to do business under the UCC, and regulated for your safety so the powder doesn’t explode in your face and the lead doesn’t poison you.

Reagan was wrong, dead wrong. (And worse, he knew it — that opportunistic rhetorical flourish has taken on a life of its own over the decades and influenced a generation of voters.) The government helps you every day, in much of what you do, in ways that the unregulated market can’t or won’t manage on its own.

If you’re a conservative, do you really want to take all that away?

8 thoughts on “[politics] The government is here to help

  1. Phiala says:

    Or eats anything, and especially something grown in the US.

    The USDA’s research (ARS) and extension (NRCS) branches directly benefit pretty much every farmer and agricultural operation in the country, and thus everyone who eats.

    1. Jonathan says:

      Let’s not forget farm subsidies. It’s amazing how people willfully turn the blind eye if it doesn’t help their case.

  2. Greg says:

    Hey there Jay…

    Yeah I know the government SHOULD do all these things but as a simple example where they let you down…. everyone I know that has ever ridden in an ambulance has had to pay for it themselves or if really lucky only paid part because of private insurance.

    I do agree with you though about regan being wrong. I’m just not sure that our government right now is looking out for anyone but themselves and big (as in too big to fail) business instead of the people.

    1. Jay says:

      Maybe, maybe not, and it’s a legitimate argument. But your government is the cop on the beat and the school librarian and the guys filling the potholes on the street in front of your house and the air traffic controller guiding your mom’s plane in safely for a visit and the USDA inspectors who keep E. coli out of your steak. That’s my point.

      Does government do some things badly? Or for the wrong reasons? Yes. So does any private company you care to name, so does the Catholic Church and Goodwill and every other institution.

      But conservative discourse has shifted us from talking about proper role and application of government to demonizing government, and that’s both wrong headed and counterfactual.

    2. Greg, there are private ambulance services and many communities use them. But just because you had to pay a fee for your trip doesn’t mean the government part of the program didn’t 1) make sure you had an ambulance service and 2) keep the lights on (and the dispatch, and the training, the building, the actual ambulance, etc). Mostly you’re paying a fee because the government leaders couldn’t raise the taxes high enough to cover all the costs.

      We’re currently going through several convulsions in my village about fire coverage, how we’re going to pay for it (hint, that 1.5 mil levy barely covers maintenance on the equipment) and especially how we’re going to handle dispatch for out police and fire (way too long a story for here). But there’s been lots of talk about fees or raising taxes (not the smart idea in this economy).

  3. David says:

    Good point. It reminds me of the world Frederik Pohl painted of an unregulated free market in his novel The Merchant’s War.

  4. Most people are against taxes and having “government in everything”, but let the snow in the streets pile up over 2″ because you’ve only got one person plowing (cutting cost through limiting overtime), and the phones ring off the hooks wondering where the government is. OR let them hit a pot-hole that wracks their car out of alignment because the funds to repave or even crack seal weren’t there.

    Some of my libertarian friends talk about how “private individuals” or companies would provide the services and they would gang together to build roads. I ask if they’ve seen just how much it costs to build a road these days (and then build one that will last more than two years).

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