The Campaign Spot

Government Usually Fails at ‘Making Sure Everybody’s Got a Shot’

NBC News has found Obama’s “I actually believe in redistribution” quote from 1998 and lays out the full context; they find the full context quite exculpatory:

I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody’s got a shot. How do we pool resources at the same time as we decentralize delivery systems in ways that both foster competition, can work in the marketplace, and can foster innovation at the local level and can be tailored to particular communities.

One can argue that the “redistribution” comment is nothing really new — it’s not all that different from his “spread the wealth around” comment to Joe the Plumber in autumn 2008 — but perhaps it’s the second part of Obama’s comment that deserves more scrutiny, anyway. Because lots of politicians continue to talk about the priority of “making sure everybody’s got a shot.” Almost every American believes in it, and voters like to hear politicians talking about how important that is.

The problem is that government does a pretty lousy job of “making sure everybody’s got a shot.”

Think about it; we spend about $600 billion on public schools, more per pupil than any other country except Switzerland, and the results are consistently disappointing as a whole: “14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics.”

The federal government spends about $18 billion per year on “job training” programs, but the GAO has concluded that the data on the effectiveness of job-training programs collecting federal funds is either outdated or nonexistent: “Little is known about the effectiveness of employment and training programs because, since 2004, only five reported conducting an impact study, and about half of all the remaining programs have not had a performance review of any kind.” James Bovard laid out the repeated failure of most federally funded job training programs since 1962.

Most of our anti-poverty programs have made no real dent in the problem, despite the fortunes spent on them: “The Census says 46 million Americans remain mired in poverty, and this is greeted as good news, because demographers had been expecting worse. About 15 percent of Americans are poor. That is the same ratio as in 2010 — and slightly higher than in 1966, despite the $16 trillion Washington has spent fighting poverty since Lyndon Johnson declared war on it.”

Somehow President Obama has gained the reputation as a reformer determined to improve government’s performance, without being much of a reformer, or being much of a critic of how government operates. He opposed welfare reform in the 1990s; his administration approves replacing “job seeking ” with “job training” for welfare recipients; when Obama’s former chief of staff tried to enact Obama’s reforms in Obama’s hometown and faced a teacher’s strike in opposition, the president remained silent.

Obama and his allies keep getting their way — the stimulus, “green jobs” initiatives, Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, TARP, housing assistance — and yet we don’t have that society where “everybody’s got a shot.” Much more harmful than any old comment about redistribution is that Obama and his allies rarely reexamine what they’re doing or ask why their policies aren’t generating the results they want.


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