In today’s local newspaper, there is a letter written by a fellow citizen of my town. The letter, titled “Government is nothing but a spending machine,” expressed the writer’s view that government is a farce, a flim flam. It reads, in part, “The harsh reality is that government produces neither goods nor services. How can it? Most of its members have never run a business, never met a payroll, never assumed any risk. Rather, government is an unbridled spending machine … the very antithesis of profit. Government spends, it does not produce.”
I genuinely seek to understand the view of such fellow citizens, which we are hearing with increasing frequency and volume. I attended a “listening session” (but which was highly engineered toward selling the Ryan Budget Plan) held by my elected congressman, Adam Kinzinger, and he made much the same claims about government – that government cannot by its very nature create “real jobs,” something only private sector employers can do (a strange sentiment coming from a man who had spent at least a third of his life in active pursuit of a government job.) Echoes of the same sentiment are being heard in the statements of various would-be political leaders such as Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann. I am sure that in no matter what area of the nation you live, you could easily pick up your own local newspaper, turn on your radio, or do a little eavesdropping on conversations in your local coffee shop, and quickly encounter sentiments like this.
Much as I have tried to comprehend this view, I remain totally perplexed. Have these people not benefited from a public education, either personally or for family members, or employees? Do they not drive on public streets? Do they not assume the daily public protection of police, fire and emergency services? Do they never enjoy public parks, pools or recreational facilities? Do they not benefit from the social insurance offered by the Social Security Administration? Do they not take for granted the control and protection of government regulators every time they buy medical supplies, meat or other foodstuffs? Do they not appreciate that because of government regulated licensing procedures, they do not have to personally investigate the qualifications of every physician, lawyer, dentist, CPA, psychologist and social worker they may need to employ? Do they not appreciate that because of government zoning enforcement a toxic waste dump cannot be placed right next to their property? Do they not daily enjoy the protection of the US military and defense services? The list goes on and on.
Certainly, every thinking person agrees that there is plenty of waste involved in the way government spends tax dollars, mostly because government programs must endure the cost overruns, fiscal shenanigans and outright fraud perpetrated by private contractors–government programs are easy marks for these business-suited crooks exactly because there is no funding for adequate oversight. But just as clearly, the fact remains that government sponsored programs, products and services (schools, parks, safety, roads, food, air and water regulations, to name only a few) represent the closest measure we have in this country to “common wealth” that enhances the general quality of life and thus raises the standard of living for all citizens.
While I want to respect and understand the views of all fellow citizens, it is increasingly difficult to comprehend this current knee-jerk anti-government opinion as more than a sort of adolescent anti-authoritarian shriek. At the very least, I can only conclude that these folks use the term “government” to mean something other than the empirical designation of that term.