One the best things about America is that we can all have different opinions. It is even OK to have ridiculous opinions, such as not believing in evolution. But when your kid is sick, you probably wouldn’t want to go to a doctor who doesn’t believe in evolution. An evolution-denying doctor might give you vaccinations designed to be effective against 1956 bugs or deny the possibility of AIDS, because new viruses don’t evolve.
For similar reasons, when our country has problems, it is wise to avoid politicians who don’t get government. Recently, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that he was “not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there.” OK. That’s his opinion. Heartless, in my estimation, considering he makes $10,000 bets and has to choose which one of his homes to stay in on any given night, but he’s entitled to his opinion.
But in defending this opinion, he’s moved on to distorting the so-called facts. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman quoted Romney as saying the “safety-net programs” have “massive overhead” and that “very little of that money that’s actually needed by those that really need help, those that can’t care for themselves, actually reaches them.”
This is simply and utterly untrue. And while those who watch a network named after a cunning animal that rhymes with “socks,” may believe that cutting government programs would not hurt the poor, I believe that Romney knows the truth—that the vast majority of money allocated to safety-net programs reaches its intended beneficiaries. In fact, the government is significantly more cost-effective than both nonprofits and the private sector in administering aid programs such as welfare and Social Security.
We should be expanding those government programs that have a good track record. There are certain things, like a police force, the armed forces, aid programs and transportation infrastructure, that the government can provide more cost-effectively than the private sector. One of the reasons that I am advocating a community-wide effort to sign up the 110,000 Sacramento-area residents who are eligible for food stamps but currently do not receive them, is because of the cost-efficiency of the food-stamp program.
Unfortunately, it has made it much harder to have a community-wide effort when presidential contenders just make stuff up in order to appeal to their core audience. The private sector may be more effective at times, but SMUD does a better job than PG&E. The Army did a better, and certainly more cost-effective, job in Iraq than President George W. Bush’s private-sector contractors. Just as I want a doctor who understands that viruses and organisms evolve, I want political leaders who understand the realities of government, rather than creatively projecting their opinions as if they were facts.