President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid have decided, despite the clear opposition of the American people, that the government can more efficiently and effectively run what has up to now been the greatest health care system in the world.
How can we expect this to work out? Reviewing the government’s performance in other endeavors provides useful and ultimately frightening guidance.
Let’s start by looking at our nation’s public schools. Efficiency is virtually non-existent. Productivity has been negative. Effectiveness has not improved, and has possibly worsened.
Almost two years ago, the Heritage Foundation published a tremendous study looking at education spending and test results during the past few decades. From 1970 to 2004, real spending per student more than doubled, while reading scores mostly stayed flat.
If the District of Columbia is any indication, Heritage’s graph understates how out of whack cost incurred versus value delivered has become. In a Washington Post op-ed also from 2008, the Cato Institute’s Andrew J. Coulson compiled spending from “all sources of funding for education from kindergarten through 12th grade, excluding spending on charter schools and higher education.” That included the operating budget, capital spending, federal funding, and city contributions.
He found that instead of spending an advertised $8,322 per student, the District was really incurring almost triple that amount, or about $24,600. That figure was and is more than likely far higher than all but the very priciest of private schools, one of which happens to be where Barack and Michelle Obama are sending their two daughters.
I don’t know how many other school districts are similarly understating their true costs, but even if the answer is “nobody else,” the nationwide per-student average is now over $11,000.
Ever-higher education spending and heavier federal involvement in it have not led to better educational quality. Yet the system’s defenders won’t let up. Despite 35-plus years of evidence that the only “positive” things that have occurred are salaries and benefits that are excessive in comparison to the private sector and bloated administrative overhead. Leading liberal columnist David Broder still thinks that spending more money we don’t have to prop up failing public schools “is a worthwhile federal investment.” Someone ought to ask Mr. Broder when enough is enough. I’m afraid his answer would be: “Never.”
It may even be that test score deterioration is occurring, but that widespread teacher-assisted cheating on standardized tests is masking it:
[I]nvestigations in Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, Virginia and elsewhere this year have pointed to cheating by educators. Experts say the phenomenon is increasing as the stakes over standardized testing ratchet higher — including, most recently, taking student progress on tests into consideration in teachers’ performance reviews.
The linked New York Times story sympathetically asserts that this is occurring because of undue “pressure.” Please. The people under real pressure are America’s taxpayers who are compelled to support this enterprise to an ever-expanding degree. And yet, while our children receive substandard schooling, anyone who proposes reasonable alternatives for improving performance at a lower cost through vouchers, charter schools, and the like gets demonized as someone who is bent on betraying them.
Then there’s the Gulf oil spill. BP obviously deserves the blame and legal liability for allowing it to happen, but the federal response has been nothing short of scandalous.
The government should have been ready. After all, it has a “National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan” at the Environmental Protection Agency. The plan’s full text is a wordsmith’s wonder, laying out in painstaking detail what federal, state, and local agencies are to be involved in disasters of this magnitude, what their responsibilities are, and how they should coordinate their efforts. It has pretty charts and graphs, and as of the time I write this, it was current. Critically, and despite frequent assertions to the contrary, it assigns almost no responsibility for heading off environmental problems or cleanup to the offending entity.
To be overly kind, evidence that the government’s comprehensive response to the spill has been timely, efficient, or effective is sorely lacking. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal hasn’t been impressed and has laudably taken matters into his own hands.
But the federal government is really, really good at one thing: issuing laws and regulations that make it tougher for it as well as what’s left of the private sector to be efficient and effective. In the oil spill saga, the Obama administration wasted no time slapping a six-month moratorium on new Gulf exploration and drilling, never mind its potentially devastating economic impact. And when a federal judge threw it out, it not only decided to appeal the ruling, its interior secretary defiantly declared his immediate intention to issue a new order to replace it while the original is under appeal.
Meanwhile, the constitutionally mandated census has turned into a decennial object lesson in government’s failure to control itself. As seen at this handy table, the 1960 edition cost $128 million, or about 71 cents per person. The 1990 tab was almost $2.5 billion, while the per-person cost topped $10, far exceeding inflation during the intervening period.
They were just warming up. The Clinton era’s 2000 census cost $4.5 billion. This year, after decades of technological improvement that should have made accomplishing the task of counting people much easier, we will spend an astonishing $14.5 billion, or almost $47 per person. As to effectiveness and accuracy, you’ll have to excuse me for questioning the wisdom of allocating federal dollars based on a census that considers all prisoners who happen to be in a community’s jails — even illegal immigrants — part of that community’s official headcount.
If their statist health care legislation is not repealed, using the government’s track record in other areas as a guide, there is every reason to believe that we’re in store for the mother of all epic fails.