Thursday, August 27, 2009

I'm from the Government and I'm Here to Help

An argument I've heard time and time again by anyone against the Public Option is "anything run by the government run is a joke". Also known as "name one government-run program that's worked". I'd like to hear what government programs they think have NOT worked, because IMO that list would be far shorter than those that have.

In general people are damned glad to see FEMA, the National Guard, and the Coast Guard show up in and after a national disaster. Usually, they're pissed if they don't show up soon enough (as in Katrina) or do enough. When the shit hit the fan in Lebanon U.S. citizens stuck in the crossfire were thrilled to see the Marines. The FAA does a damned good job of controlling air traffic - I still cannot believe controllers were able to get 5,000 commercial flights grounded within only THREE hours on 9/11, with no set drill, plan or training in place to ground every flight in the U.S.
Environmental arguments aside, business folks around here are pretty happy that the Army Corps of Engineers is dredging the Columbia which allows us to have access to international shipping. Even if some of us would have preferred the hydroelectric dams not be put in place to begin with, we're pretty happy they maintain them now and regulate the water flow to protect us from flooding (and give the salmon a chance).

Every day when I check the forecast to decide what clothes to put on in the morning I am grateful for NOAA and the National Weather Service. Every time one of our little mountains burps ash, or the ground gets a little shaky here on the Pacific Ring of Fire I'm very thankful for the USGS. All of their tax dollar funded research came in very handy when I was looking for a house to buy that wasn't in a flood, landslide, tsunami, or earthquake hazard zone. Then there's the CDC, FDA, EPA... pick any 3 digit acronym and I'll tell you what they've "helped" myself or my loved ones, personally.

Another argument that got quite the reaction at the town hall last week was "where in the Constitution does it say 'give healthcare to those who haven't earned it?'" It says "promote the general welfare not "provide"!!" For the moment I'll leave aside the idea that anybody needs to "earn" the right to basic health care and address the constitutional argument.

First, what do you think the Framers had in mind when they said "promote?" Public Service Ads of the "Just Say No" variety??? I don't think so. From the very beginning our founders committed federal dollars to public projects/ investments to "promote" the general welfare. To make the promise of the American Dream reality for as many people as possible. One of the first of these investments that was highly controversial, incredibly expensive, and criticized as being "unconstitutional" was ......

The Louisiana Purchase.

Jefferson himself acknowledged that the Constitution did not contain any provisions for acquisition of territory, but felt the aquisition of New Orleans (and elimination of France as a potential North American rival) was vital to the security of the young nation. When Napolean offered the ENTIRE Louisiana territory, including New Orleans for the outrageous price (at the time) of $15 Mill. James Monroe and Robert Livingston jumped at the offer.

For the record - the "purchase" was made on credit. With bonds. France charged us 6% interest. In the end the total price was $23.5 Mill. Which, using the GDP deflator, would be about $430 Mill in today's dollars. Using the relative share of GDP, it would be the equivalent of over $700 BILLION.

What did the federal government do with all that land? Practically gave it away (Preemption Act of 1841) to anyone willing to build a sod house on it. Then did give it away: Homestead Act of 1864. Not only to any citizen of the United States (who had not taken up arms against said U.S.), but to anyone who *wanted* to become a citizen. How well do you think this kind of blatant socialism would go over in today's world?

And as a result millions of people and their descendants were able to realize the American Dream. When the term was first used in 1931 by Historian James Truslow Adams, it was described as:

The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and
richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it.

It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous
circumstances of birth or position.

This was the disconnect that struck me at the town hall... those who felt they HAD achieved the "American Dream" feeling as if they are superior to those who are still struggling to realize it for themselves. I'm not dogging the blood, sweat and tears any of these "self made" people put into growing their own business, but I would ask them to really think about how much of that "self made" succss was due entirely to their own efforts, and how much was due to others, including the government.

A couple of them talked about their pioneering great-greats who came west with nothing and built a better life for their children. If their great-greats were anything like mine, they were only able to do so because at one point the Federal government bought land, and GAVE it away to homesteaders. If they weren't one of the initial half a million or so who survived the arduous trek westward by wagon train or ship, then they likely came west on one of the railroads built on more land bought by the federal government and GIVEN to the railroad companies. And undoubtedly enjoyed being able to receive goods and services to help them build their new lives on the frontier, and ship the fruits of their labor to customers, by those same railroads. The construction of which was heavily subsidized by federal tax dollars.

Or maybe their great greats came west, like some of mine and were GIVEN the opportunity to make a fortune by mining for gold and other minerals; or running their herds of cattle on GOVERNMENT owned land.
I don't know how many wage slaves I've worked with who dream someday of starting their own business. People in the IT industry especially always have some side project they're working on in their spare time to make a million bucks. The one thing that stops them from taking the plunge? The fear of losing that basic medical safety net for themselves and their family. If that were guaranteed, there would be an entreprenuerial renaissance in this country the likes of which we've never seen.
Update**For the record, I'm not ignoring the huge issue of what gave France and the U.S. the "right" to buy/sell land that didn't belong to them to begin with; or the issue of what atrocities the young nation committed to provide these capitalist "opportunities" to potential railroad barons, settlers, miners, whathaveyou. Just pointing out that the "American Dream" was BUILT on the Federal Government "giving away" common resources/capital to individuals with no thought as to whether or not those individuals had "earned" that privilege.

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