Thursday, 2 January 2014

The Public Sector, Our Grandkids, and The Failure Of Our Political Class

An article by Mark Shields entitled, "The Public Sector And My Grandchildren," appeared in the December 26, 2010 issue of the St. Petersburg Times. In the article, Mr. Shields tries to make the case that government at all levels has and will make sure that his grandchildren have a better life as a result of government, and the politicians running that government, are on the case, effective, and looking out for their well being. To prove his point, he lists out what he perceives to be the good that government and politicians bestow on us everyday.

All Americans should certainly respect Mr. Shield's perspective that government and politicians are dong a good job. If that is his opinion and feels that his grandkids will have a better life as a result, then he probably sleeps better at night than many of us. However, using Mr. Shields' own examples, many of us end up with a diametrically opposite view, namely that government and the current political class that operates it will not create a better future for our grandkids:

- Mr. Shields asserts that his grandkids "will get an excellent education at superior public schools." What is interesting is that in the same section of the same paper on the same day, another article shows that United States teenagers, the vast majority of which went to these same public schools, ranked 31st relative to other nations when it comes 15 year olds performing at the advanced level in math proficiency. Only 6% of U.S. students perform at the advanced level compared to 28% of students in Taiwan that perform at advanced level in math proficiency. The top ten nations all had at least 15% of their kids performing at the highest levels compared to our meager 6%.

The article also broke down the United States performance state-by-state, which may help explain Mr. Shields' high opinion of our public schools. However, the very best state, Massachusetts, only has 12% of its 15 year olds at high proficiency in math, trailing seventeen nations. In fact, only two states had a proficiency at least 10%, the other 48 states were in the single digit range.

Continuing along this same theme, recent news reports showed that the United States trails trails dozens of nations in math, reading, and science and the Defense Department recently reported that almost a quarter (23%) of potential enlistees cannot pass the basic reading and math entrance examinations. A May 11, 2010 Associated Press article stated that about a third of incoming U.S. college students need to take at least one remedial course, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The results of a survey that was published in the July 16, 2010 issue of The Week magazine showed that 26% of Americans did not know that the United States won it's independence from England, with some people in that 26% naming Mexico, France and China. I am sorry I do not share Mr.Shields view of our public schools but based on hard results and experiences, they are anything but superior.

- Mr. Shields maintains that our national safety and defense is protected by the brave men and women of our armed forces, an assertion no one cannot disagree with. However, an important follow on question is needed: at what cost? The Defense Department budget is now in excess of over $800 billion or so, more than 20% of the entire Federal budget. We have hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops stationed all over the world, many serving a purpose that no longer exists. We have tens of thousands of troops in Europe to protect against a Communist military strike. However, that potential is now zero but we spend billions of dollars a year guarding against it.

We have tens of thousands of troops in Japan to guard against what? No one seems to have any idea but it is still billions of dollars wasted. We have almost 30,000 troops in South Korea, despite the fact that a vibrant South Korean economy is strong enough to provide the men and resources to protect itself. More billions of dollars wasted. We still have 50,000 troops in Iraq despite the fact the current President campaigned to get them all out long ago. More billions of dollars wasted annually.

Yes, Mr. Shields, we are thankful for the brave men and women in our armed forces. We are not thankful for the politicians that refuse to stop fighting the wrong and/or non-existent threats and potentially bankrupting the nation in the process with an over sized and inefficient military budget process.

- Most would agree with Mr. Shields that the air with breathe and the water we drink is cleaner and healthier than it probably was several decades ago. This is probably one of the few Federal government areas, pollution control and monitoring, where discernible progress has been made over the past several decades.
However, just how good is the EPA from a pollution mitigation perspective? An April 16, 2010 article in Newsweek magazine asserted that over 720 U.S. companies have been in "continuous violation" of air pollution laws for years. Does not sound like the government is really do all that great of a job if hundreds of air pollution violators can go unpunished for years.

And what about the BP oil spill disaster earlier this year? The government was caught totally unprepared to cope with such massive water pollution. Government employees responsible for oil rig safety have been shown to be preoccupied searching for pornography on their government computers, they did not conduct the required number of safety inspections, many of them admitted to drug addiction habits and usage while on the job, and many were so preoccupied with getting a private sector oil industry job that they may have been derelict in their safety job requirements. As a result of this faulty government oversight, we now have a likely ecological disaster for years to come that may have an impact on Mr. Shields' grandkids down the road from a food safety and recreation perspective.

- Most Americans would probably agree that current government employees and politicians do accomplish many worthwhile activities such as food safety, building safety, air travel safety, libraries, police protection and fire protection. However, they are supposed to to these kinds of activities, they should not be singled out for extraordinary commendations for simply doing their jobs.

- Most would also agree on many other points brought out in the article but Mr. Shields gives government credit for acts that took effect long ago. Ending segregation, passing ant-discrimination laws, maintaining copyright and patent processes, etc. were all done by past generations of government and politicians, not today's political class. This is what today's government and political class has given us

  • A political process that is riddled with earmarks and the corruption of money from unions, PACs, and corporations, money that overwhelms the needs and desires of ordinary American citizens.
  • Gerrymandered Congressional districts and primary processes designed to do what is best for the major political powers and the political incumbents, regardless of what is best for the voters in those Congressional districts.
  • Dozens of SEC employees that have been shown to be totally preoccupied with on-the-job Internet pornography searching as the financial infrastructure of the country melted down into the Great Recession.
  • A Federal Reserve Board, a Treasury Department, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, HUD, FHA, numerous Senate and House Of Representatives committees and subcommittees and droves of government economists that never saw the coming of the Great Recession until it hit them in the face, resulting in high levels of unemployment, the destruction of retirement wealth for millions of Americans, and the systemic destruction of the housing and mortgage industry.
  • A failure when it comes to the war on drugs as a violent, lawless state, consumed by the drug cartels, evolves just south of our borders.
  • A failure when it comes to developing a comprehensive and rationale energy policy, more than thirty years after the oil crises of the 1970s showed how much such a policy was needed.
  • A failure when it comes to national security, resulting in over three thousand civilian deaths on 9-11, years after such a threat was obvious from terrorism due to the first World Trade Center bombing, the African embassy bombings, and the U.S.S. Cole attack.
  • A failure when it comes to secure borders and a rationale immigration policy.
  • Extremely high taxation rates, rates that inhibit freedom of choice in this country. When a citizen is paying over 40% of their earnings to all levels of government in taxes and fees, the ability to start a new business, send one's kids to better schools, save for retirement, contribute to a favorite charity, etc. is severely limited. There cannot be political freedom without financial freedom and Mr. Shields' grandkids are heading into a future in this country where freedom is more or less a distant memory.
  • And worse of all, especially when it comes to Mr. Shields' grandkids, an ever growing and ever dangerous national debt has been thrust upon their future. Before his two grandkids hit second grade, they already are responsible for over $42,000 of the Federal government's national debt (dividing the $13 TRILLION of national debt by the 308 million or so current U.S.citizens). It does not matter how safe the Federal government makes our food or our drugs or our air safety. Unless skyrocketing the national debt is tamed, all other government functions become moot. At the point where the financials of the nation collapses, I am sure that patent protection and copyright protection and the like will not be pressing issues.

And what is our government and political class doing about all of these crises? Apparently not much. Consider a quote from President Obama that appeared in the August 10, 2009 edition of the New York Times: "I've got a lot on my plate and it's very important for us to sequence these big initiatives in a way where they don't all just crash at the same time." Obviously, those running the country now do not see any great urgency if they plan to tackle the major issues one at a time. Unfortunately, for Mr. Shields' grandkids, and the rest of us, these problems will get worse and worse before the political class ever gets to them, reducing our freedom and financial stability going forward.

We have truly entered into an era, of what David Brooks called in a recent New York Times article, of "immobile government." An era where incompetence, bureaucracy, and partisan politics results in a public sector whose successes get fewer and less impactful going forward. This is not due to the hard working government employees but to the insular and out-of touch political class that leads them. So, with all due respect to Mr. Shields position, I am less thankful "what government does for those whom we love." I am more scared by what government does not do or does wastefully or inefficiently for those whom we love.

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