It seems that the only answer government (local, state or national) in the U.S. has to any problem is to pass a law, institute a new program or agency, and thus spend more of the taxpayer’s money. Perhaps it would not be so vexing if the alleged solution actually was one. But it’s rare (actually, I can’t think of a single example) that government spending solves a problem, rights a wrong, or in any way changes the status quo in a positive way.
In my lifetime, the federal government has created the Departments of Health, Education and Welfare, 1953 (now the Department of Health and Human Services, 1980, 65,000 employees); Housing and Urban Development, 1965, 9,000 employees; Transportation, 1966, 55,000 employees; Energy, 1977, over 100,000 federal and contract employees; Education, 1979, 4,200 employees; Veteran’s Affairs, 1989, 235,000 employees; and Homeland Security, 2002, 216,000 employees (establishment dates from United States History website; employment figures from the White House).
The cost of health care in the U.S. skyrocketed from around 5.0% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 1960 to about 15% on 2005. What have those 65,000 employees of DHHS been up to?
Did HUD (or the federal-government-sponsored Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae) have anything to do with the root causes of the housing disaster?
U.S. highways and the interstate system are crumbling under years of neglect due to the inability of local, state and federal governments to sufficiently fund repairs, not to mention needed new road construction. Whereas the private freight rail systems, including CSX and Norfolk Southern, are doing well, the federal AMTRAK passenger rail system, while serving few passengers, is hemorrhaging money. What has DOT done for us?
What does the Dept. of Energy do? Since its creation, we’ve suffered energy black-outs and brown-outs, no new refineries have been constructed, the price of gasoline has gone up, drilling for oil that could augment our supply has been restricted, and no alternative fuels to replace gasoline have been developed. But taxes on all fuels have gone up.
Education in this country is a disaster. Standards have declined, many college students are functionally illiterate, American students cannot compete with many other countries in the fields of math and science, school discipline is an oxymoron. These results are inversely related to steadily increasing government spending per student. Dept. of Education gets a failing grade.
A variety of sources document the low quality of care in VA hospitals. That is something that was supposed to have been corrected by making the old Veterans Administration a cabinet-level Dept. of Veterans Affairs in 1989.
Homeland Security: Where shall I start–with TSA? Perhaps border security? Maybe immigration. DHS is a massive bureaucracy that has drawn in many agencies from other departments and created new ones. What kind of bang are we getting for our bucks there?
I’m not suggesting that all these departments should be doing better–I’m suggesting that we don’t need these horrendous bureaucracies. We did quite well without them (much better, in fact, is my impression). Nor am I suggesting that they are the only executive departments that are unnecessary–they just happen to be the most recent ones added. Overall, there are about 2 million federal government employees, over 650,000 of which are civilian employees of the Dept. of Defense. Why? To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: Are we better off now than we were 1.5 million government employees ago?
Clearly, our lives do not get better as government agencies and employees are added, and they will not be worse if the size of government is reduced; if anything, reducing the size of the federal bureaucracy will have a greatly positive impact on the quality of our lives and the size of our bank accounts.