The Corner

As Big Government Programs Go, Obamacare Works

. . . at least as well as other big-government programs.

There’s considerable concern in progressive quarters that the Obamacare debacles will make people skeptical about government competency and public solutions, thus setting back the cause of liberalism for a generation. Perhaps, but unlikely. If massive, ineffectual government programs cause people to reject future massive, ineffectual programs, why didn’t the following programs stop passage of Obamacare in its tracks?

  • The Stimulus. The Obama administration promised that if Congress passed the $814,000,000,000 stimulus, unemployment today would be 5 percent (“If you like your job, you can keep your job. Period”). Instead, it’s 7.3 percent, and had millions not dropped out of the labor force entirely, the unemployment rate today would be over 10 percent — nearly three points higher than when the stimulus passed.
  • The Department of Energy. The department was created in response to the oil crisis of the Seventies, when the U.S. imported 35 percent of its oil. The department’s express purpose was to make the U.S. energy independent (“If you like $1.15 a gallon gas, you can keep $1.15 a gallon gas. Period.”). Since its creation the department has spent hundreds of billions of dollars; it currently has nearly 110,000 employees and contractors. Over the last 15 years, the U.S. has imported on average more than 50 percent of its oil.
  • The Department of Education. The department was created in 1980 for the express purpose of improving U.S. students’ academic performance (“If you like smarter kids, you’ll have smarter kids. Period.”). Since then, per pupil K–12 spending has increased (in constant dollars) from approximately $6,000 annually to $12,500. Hundreds of billions have been spent by the department since 1980, yet scores for the nation’s 17-year-olds on the National Assessment of Educational Progress — called “the nation’s report card” — have remained unchanged. Just today we learned that U.S. students lag behind most other developed nations in reading, science, and math. The response of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan? We need to spend more.
  • Head Start. The program was created in 1965 to, among other things, improve the cognitive performance of poor kids (“If you like smart poor kids, you can have smart poor kids. Period.”) Hundreds of billions have been spent on the program, but recent studies show that it does nothing for the cognitive abilities of kids enrolled in the program, with any benefits disappearing by the time the kids reach third grade.
  • The War on Poverty. More than $15,000,000,000,000 has been spent by federal and state governments on 122 separate welfare programs since 1964, according to a Cato analysis. (“If you like the middle class, we’ll make you middle class. Period.”). The poverty rate in 1964 was 19 percent and falling. Nearly 50 years later, the rate is still more than 15 percent and climbing. Forty-eight million are below the poverty line today and 47 million are on food stamps.
  • Affirmative Action. A multi-billion-dollar apparatus supports affirmative action in education and hiring. One of the ostensible purposes is to increase minority participation in higher education (“If you’d like a college degree, you can have a college degree. Period.”). But when affirmative action was banned in California, black college graduation rates rose and studies show that elsewhere, black law students who are admitted pursuant to affirmative action are two-and-a-half times less likely than their white comparatives to graduate, six times less likely to pass the bar exam, and 50 percent of them are in the bottom 10 percent of their respective classes.

These are but a few big-government programs that failed to stop the advance of still more mammoth government failures. Never underestimate the seductive power of promises of “free” stuff and a better life, provided by an omniscient and benevolent state.


Peter Kirsanow — Peter N. Kirsanow is an attorney and a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

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