( The following is an editorial form this weeks Granite State News)
The value of
Our nation and state are struggling to answer
the question, what do we want government to do
Right now we expect government at all levels to
do two things: 1) serve as a referee, setting and enforcing
rules to protect us from the antisocial members
within and potential predators without; and 2)
to provide services that most of us as individuals
could not afford to provide for ourselves.
We think that most Americans accept and expect
government to play these roles. After all, any
game worth playing needs both rules and a referee,
and that is especially true with capitalism, which
encourages intense competition where all players
seek to take advantage of the weaknesses of their
competitors. Inevitably for some players, the process
of seeking advantage crosses lines and creates
unfair and even predatory situations. Someone is
needed to catch that cheating and blow the whistle
The recent housing bubble and subsequent Great
Recession of 2007-2008 is the most recent example of
seeking advantage to excess. Millions of Americans
lost their jobs and homes and real estate values are
still below where they were 10 years ago because
short-sighted reckless behavior went unchecked.
Despite disasters like that, there are many who
argue government regulations in general stifle
economic growth. There is some merit in this argument.
The process of regulating activities can
go well beyond the 80-20 rule, where 80 percent of
results are achieved by 20 percent of the effort and
where achieving the last 20 percent of a goal costs
80 percent of the effort: this is also known as the law
of diminishing returns.
The regulatory process can also be abused to
protect monopolies by tailoring minimum requirements
to match those already dominant in a market
in order to raise costs for new players attempting to
enter the market.
Unfortunately today we see politicians and those
who stand to gain or protect competitive advantages
using these arguments to do away with all regulation,
good and bad.
Arbitrary rules like getting
rid of two existing regulations if you want to add
a new one – as our president and governor have
proposed – is an open invitation to abuse. The last
thing we need now is to allow a thousand Bernie
Madoffs to bloom.
Those who believe specific regulations are unnecessarily
restrictive or unfair should subject
them to formal public debate and not allow changes
to be made in the back rooms in Washington and
However, it is the second purpose of government
that we are most concerned about, and that is providing
services that most Americans could not afford
on their own. That includes obvious services
– like plowing and maintaining the public roads
everyone uses, and providing police and fire protection
– as well as services and resources used at
any one time by only part of the population – such
as public schools, libraries, recreational activities,
social services and healthcare.
Locally we have heard criticism from some of
towns supporting non-profit services such as visiting
nurses, food pantries, addiction treatment centers,
and meals for seniors and the poor. The critics
assert that residents who want to support these organizations
can make individual donations instead
– as if individuals are not already doing that and
cutting the pennies on the tax rate was worth paying
the dollars that would have to be spent if these
services were stopped.
The current federal budget proposal calls for
steep reductions to or elimination of programs
that partially support not only these local non-profits,
but also schools, libraries, museums, national
parks and public radio and television in favor of
increased military spending and tax cuts.
horizon are plans to reduce or eliminate Medicare
and Social Security benefits to “curb the growth of
entitlements” in favor of cutting taxes further.
This attack on the services provided by government
not only reduces the value of government
to most of us, it is penny wise and dollar foolish.
Take Medicare as an example. The Kaiser Family
Foundation has found that “administrative costs
in Medicare are only about 2 percent of operating
expenditures;” that compares with private insurance
rates of 20 to 30 percent, and Medicare does not
have to generate profit for shareholders.
We certainly agree with the idea of putting
America First. We just don’t see how cutting good
regulations and dropping services that benefit
most Americans cost-effectively in favor of being
the world’s policeman is putting us first.