AGORA: Is Government The Solution, Or The Problem?

Dan Georgakas and TNH Executive Editor Constantinos E. Scaros debate the age-old problem of whether government should lead, follow or get out of the way. GEORGAKAS: Dino, Ronald Reagan, one of your favorite Presidents, was fond of saying that government was the problem, not the solution. Like many political phrases, that notion is more wrong than right. It lacks imagination. Imagine a government that put all its funds into its own bank, avoiding enormous bank fees, directly earning interest for the public’s money, and making small loans to credit-worthy citizens. Imagine a government that assists corporations to adopt non-fossil fuel energy sources. Imagine a government whose postal system operates at a profit six days a week without raising rates. Imagine a Presidential candidate who states he is a voice for 99% of Americans, not the greedy super-rich 1%. Imagine a government that mandates the food industry to inform the public when it genetically alters seeds. Such a package of governance exists. Not in Russia or China, or Cuba. I am talking about the good old United States of America. North Dakota, one of the most conservative states, has a state bank that handles all public monies and makes sound loans. It has been operating since 1919 and is extremely popular. Current federal tax laws offer inducements for corporations to convert to solar power. A little company named Walmart is now halfway to powering all its stores by sunlight and will reach a 100% goal shortly. Apple, another economic giant, has a less ambitious goal of about 80% solar and is also halfway there. The U.S. Postal system has turned a profit for years. Its “deficit” is due to a Congress, intent on privatizing whatever it can, forcing the system to fully fund its pension system. The postal service is the only federal agency required to do so. If allowed to follow standard federal practices, it would show a profit. Franklin Delano Roosevelt coined the 99%-1% image in his bid to attain the Vice-Presidency in 1920. He reprised the phrase for subsequent campaigns. It was the essence of his New Deal policies. Vermont, among the most liberal states, has passed a law requiring full disclosure of genetically modified foods. We are not talking here of traditional grafting and its variations, but efforts such as those that put frog genes in corn! Two other states have passed similar but not compulsory legislation. I have never heard of hurricane, flood, or tornado victims complaining that the government was helping too much and ought to cut back on aid to balance the budget. The crucial factor in such special events and everyday problems is not the size and power of government but government’s self-perceived mandate. I think a major problem now confronting the United States is the nature of those in public office. Approximately half of our Congress consists of millionaires and there is about the same percentage of lawyers. Should we be surprised that tax breaks go to the super-rich and belt-tightening is applied to everyone else? Should we be surprised at complex legislation that requires professional legal assistance to sort out or even understand? The complexity of income tax forms, for example, and who benefits from loopholes stems from the orientation of Congressional millionaires and lawyers. One predictable outcome of this year’s general election is that, as in most years, the vast majority of incumbents will be re-elected. They will continue to legislate or refuse to legislate in a manner that has earned them a dismal approval rating of under 10%. In that sense, Reagan was right: government can indeed be the problem. But only when the electorate falls asleep in the back seat of governance and doesn’t hold the designated driver accountable. SCAROS: Dan, I think if the federal government became our nation’s top banker, it would become such an uncontrollable monster that even I – who has resisted doing so to this point – would begin to warn of impending socialist doom. Nonetheless, I agree with much of what you mention, not least of which that genetically modified foods should be sufficiently labeled as such. As for the government – this particular iteration, not the concept itself – being woefully ineffective, I couldn’t agree with you more. It baffles me how over 99 percent of Congress is comprised of Democrats and Republicans, how well over 90 percent of Americans think Congress is doing a terrible job, and yet how Americans simply will not think outside the box and vote for a third party. A perfect example of how government doesn’t work is the recent non-debate, falsely clothed as a debate, about a pay gap based on gender. Democrats rail that female workers earn only 77 cents for every dollar that men earn, and that the Republicans don’t care about gender equality. Republicans, in turn, quip that even in Obama’s own White House, gender pay is unequal, as women make 88 cents for every dollar men make. Very recently, Senate Democrats proposed the Paycheck Fairness Act, which Republicans, along party lines, voted against. Of course, that gave Democrats a golden opportunity to continue to blast Republicans for being against gender equality in the workplace. Those are the perceptions, all of them very far removed from reality. Here’s the real story: the .77/$1 and .88/$1 comparisons are not apples to apples. They simply take the total sum of all male and female workers’ earnings and then divide by the number of workers in each gender. Essentially, this means in a typical corporation, the employees who get paid the big bucks to sit in a boardroom and come up with ideas are mostly men, and the ones who bring them a fresh cup of coffee and take their phone messages are mostly women. While there is much to be said about why that is – why it is the women who refill the men’s coffee cups – it is not a case of taking a man and a woman with identical qualifications, giving them identical jobs, and paying the man more. In fact, the Paycheck Fairness Act would not make gender-based employment discrimination illegal – because it already is illegal. The Act simply would make it easier to enforce gender equality in the workplace, much like Arizona’s proposed immigration law of a couple of years ago was designed to make it easier to enforce federal immigration laws that had been on the books for decades. Moreover, though it is true that Republicans did in fact vote against the Act, they certainly did not do so because they are against gender equality, but rather because of what continues to separate most Republicans from most Democrats: an inherent distrust of government’s ability to accomplish most things, and a strong aversion to giving the government any additional money to spend. Four Republican Senators – all women, in fact – proposed amendments to the Act, none of which would diminish the intent to safeguard gender equality in the workplace, but which would streamline existing funds and not call for additional ones. The pig-headed Democrats refused to entertain the amendments. The pig-headed Republicans, in turn, voted against the entire Act, and it failed. As a result, even though virtually all of the members of Congress agreed to the majority of the Act, none of it was passed. Once again, both major parties have failed to do their job, and have only succeeded in what they do best: blaming the other side. I have less of a problem with “big government” at the state level. For some reason, elected officials on the state level, on the whole, are the adults in the room. Comparatively speaking, they are the level-headed individuals, as compared to the selfish, stubborn mules on Capitol Hill that try to pass themselves off as being stately. George W. Bush as Governor of Texas was extremely successful in working with both major parties in that state. When he couldn’t do the same as president, he fessed that Washington is a completely different animal. Barack Obama, elected to be a different kind of politician, one who would bring us together, is facing the same problem. In this case, the baby should be thrown out with the bath water. And more than just one baby. With rare exception, the vast majority of the 535 Congressional crybabies. WHAT’S YOUR OPINION?