Bob Meade - Hand out or hand up

  • Published in Columns

When the 16th Amendment was ratified one hundred years ago, it gave the federal government the ability to lay and collect taxes on individual citizens. Prior to that time, the federal government assessed each state their portion of the federal budget, based on each state's population. States would then levy a tax on the citizens, collect the money, and send it to the federal government. President Taft wanted a more equitable way to assess citizens for their share of the federal expenditures and, from that, evolved the 16th Amendment.

While President Taft was right, the mere fact that the government can impose taxes on individuals as it sees fit, is cause for concern. Individuals simply don't have the voice, or the clout that a state government has, to put pressure on the federal government to manage more wisely. The ability to tax also negates the need to find real solutions to problems, as it allows bureaucracies, once started, to continue to grow regardless of their performance. Every deficiency or failure of the bureaucracy brings a shout, a demand, for more tax revenues. There is no need for a bona fide solution, just levy more taxes and let the failed bureaucracy continue to grow.

An example of a new bureaucratic failure is the website for the Affordable Care Act. The site has already incurred over $600 million in costs and has yet to perform up to any measure of acceptable standards that normal businesses would demand. More money will continue to be thrown at the problem in the hopes that it will one day operate within some standard norms. No business would have ever permitted such excessive cost over-runs, or have undergone such minimal testing, or have proceeded to launch when every pre-cutover signal was that the cutover would be a failure, or, importantly, have no security built into the system. To say that it has been a novice performance up to this time is the kindest thing one can say.

However, to this point, the website failure is miniscule when compared to other federal bureaucratic failures. For example, the War on Poverty was started under President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, in the hopes of elevating those in need out of poverty and into the middle class. At that time, there were about 34 million people living at the poverty level. Fast forward to 2009, and we find about the same percentage of people were living in poverty as did when the program was started . . . in spite of the fact that over $16 trillion has been spent trying to eliminate it. One of the side effects of that "investment" is that in 1965, two thirds, or 67 percent of low-income households were headed by a full-time worker. By 1991, only 11 percent of those households were headed by a full-time worker. An article in the New York Times pointed out that, in 2009, the federal government spent $14,849 for every man, woman, and child living in poverty. The article went on to say, "Throwing money at the problem has neither reduced poverty nor made the poor self-sufficient."

To this point, our national debt of $17+ trillion is quite close to what we have spent on the War on Poverty, without making any significant improvement in the poverty level. It seems that our bureaucracies prefer to seek tax revenues more than they seek solutions to problems. Why not try seeking solutions? For example, there are some geographic locations in this country that have been poverty stricken for decades, and there appears to be little hope of turning around that problem. Shouldn't we consider a family relocation plan that would allow people to move from systemic poverty areas to locations with good employment? In combination with that relocation plan, provide a corresponding job training program for members of the household so they could become proficient in any number of marketable skills. Such a plan would help people work their way out of poverty and become self-sufficient, and, in the longer term, would reduce the Federal expenditures that exist today.

When WWII ended, returning military could use their GI benefits to learn any number of trades . . . plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics, and so on. The employers who were willing to take on that training responsibility were compensated for a portion of the wages they paid to the apprentice. Over time, the employer no longer needed to be subsidized, as the trainee had become skilled in his chosen field and could offer his services on the open market.

This is but one example. The federal government is rife with problems in need of solutions. Every process can be improved. We should stop suffering bloated bureaucracies and demand solutions to problems.

(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)