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May 04, 2015

Area Politician Says: Government Doesn't Work, So Let's Try Government Instead

In the wake of the Baltimore riots and our "everything old is new again" conversation on poverty, Paul Ryan has some startling news...Poverty won The War on Poverty.

"After a 50-year war on poverty and trillions of dollars spent, we still have the same poverty rates – 45 million people in poverty," he said on CBS's "Face the Nation" program. "What we as a country – this isn't a Republican-Democrat thing – it's we as a country need to say, "That's not good enough. … We're not getting the results we need."

Hard to argue with that.

Of course the logical conclusion one would reach from this half-century plus of failure is government is simply incapable of doing anything about fundamental societal problems like multi-generational poverty. Well, it can do somethings, mostly it can make it worse by destroying families. While the left sees that as a rousing success, it's not something conservatives should be shooting for.

So clearly a smart guy like Paul Ryan realizes that government isn't the solution to this particular problem anymore than say a plumber is the right person to call when your car breaks down.

Well, not exactly.

Ryan, the chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee and former vice presidential candidate, said federal programs aimed at alleviating poverty should be scaled back to allow states a great role in the effort.

"What the federal government's good at doing is providing resources. What the federal government is bad at doing is dictating solutions," he said. "What I think the federal government has done is displaced local problem solving with top-down, one-size-fits-all, and it's not working."


Let's get something out of the way up front, "block grants" are a magic incantation conservative reformers like to throw out there to pretend they are "getting Washington out of the way." They aren't.

No one is going to just write billions and billions of checks and not put strings on how they are spent or require oversight and an accounting of results. So the idea that genius state policy makers will just be getting dump truck loads of cash unencumbered by policy makers in DC is a lie.

As far as the idea that the federal government is good at "providing resources" I guess that's true in as much as it can essentially create money out of thin air and "spread it around". I'm not sure that's a talent we should be encouraging though.

As for the idea that state governments are some how bastions of nimble and talented problem solvers I submit three names....California, New York and Massachusetts.

From whence does this mystical faith in state governments to change the hearts and fates of men come? On constitutional grounds states are often the preferable level of government but on a competency grounds? The advantage of state control isn't improved results but rather limited damage. For every damaging policy California implements there are escape destinations. People don't go to Florida or Texas because they are running super smart and innovative state governments, they go there because they are running relatively small and non-invasive ones.

More importantly, can we simply stop accepting the leftist notion that if given enough resources used wisely enough government at any level can change the fortunes of the poor?

If it's simply a question or "providing resources", how much? Tell how much it will take to turn the denizens of the drug infested neighborhoods of Baltimore or predominately white rural areas where meth and Heroin use are skyrocketing, into fine upstanding contributing members of society. Is money the only issues keeping these fine folks from productive careers and the comforts of middle class America? If not, and I don't think anyone thinks it is, whatever is missing is something government simply can not provide.

We should be arguing for alternatives to government that enable people to do the best they can on their own. Only the individual knows what they want and what they are willing to work to achieve. No government bureaucracy will ever be smart, nimble or caring enough to deftly guide an individual through life. State governments are just as a much of a blunt force instrument as the federal government. The only differences are the geographic limits of the damage they can do and the ability of people to move to avoid the worst of it.

Put not your faith in self-dealing bureaucrats at any level.

Until conservative "leaders" accept this, conservative "reformers" will simply be rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking nation.

We spend a lot of time debating how government should do things. What we need is to spend some time thinking about what government really can or should even try to do.

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posted by DrewM. at 10:59 AM

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