Retirement and Social Security Reform
2008 Elections Won't Result In Better Gov't
Investor's Business Daily
January 15, 2008
By Ernest S. Christian and Gary A. Robbins
Most Americans have become reconciled to life
with a federal government that has more money and exercises
more power in more ways over the lives of more people than
any secular institution the world has ever known.
And many - if not most - have also come to believe that the
ubergovernment in Washington is not only benign but is also
benevolent, devoted strictly to making everyone both better
and better off.
This counterfactual view of government is partly because
in America we have so many elections. The "people's voice"
is constantly being heard, almost year-round every year, in
media-saturated rituals that reinforce the idea that government
is the collective "us" acting for our common good.
Elections legitimize government when they are for real, but
under no circumstances do they make government smart and efficient
or even minimally competent.
The mere fact that the president and the members of Congress
achieve their offices by election - instead of by force or
inheritance - does not mean that what the government does
is actually good for us. Our best interests may not even be
its first priority.
And new elections, with a new president and new members of
Congress taking office, do not mean that the government will
change its character or that its performance will improve.
It is unlikely that the '08 elections will change the fact
that on average the 15 Cabinet-level departments of government
fall 43% short of achieving the results they are supposed
In fiscal 2006, for example, they spent $1,568 billion to
do a $902 billion job. Sadly, the Department of Veterans Affairs
was the worst, falling 66% short on results. Next worse was
Interior, with a performance shortfall of 59%. Education,
HUD and Homeland Security all missed the mark by more than
The independent agencies failed just as badly as the big Cabinet
departments. EPA missed by 67%, EEOC by 60% and both the Civil
Rights Commission and the FCC seem not to have demonstrated
any results in the most recent performance rating study carried
out by the Office of Management and Budget.
Among the highest-ranking was the Social Security Administration,
which doesn't have much to do but write checks - but even
it fell short on performance by 29%.
When the scorekeepers at OMB looked at the details of specific
government-spending programs, the results (or more correctly
the lack thereof) were even more appalling.
The Commerce Department had eight programs (27%) that failed
the "mission accomplished" test by more than 60%.
Between one-third and one-half of the spending programs of
Treasury, Justice, Labor and Agriculture flunked by that same
In addition to not making the government efficient, the '08
elections are also unlikely to stop the federal government
from doing bad things.
It will still tell businesses whom to hire and not to fire
and what wages to pay; pilfer from Social Security and other
trust funds and spend the money on political pork; discriminate
on the basis of race and sex; say who can and cannot attend
which schools; tell schools what to teach and how to teach
it; restrict religious speech, mostly by Christians; suppress
political speech by candidates who challenge incumbent officeholders;
inflate the cost of medical care, insert bureaucrats between
patients and their doctors; dupe the elderly with unsustainable
promises; ignore the entitlement crisis that will bankrupt
the economy; and fail to protect the nation's borders.
Elections have never stopped the federal government from deliberately
choosing to impose taxes in ways guaranteed to do the most
economic harm per dollar of revenue collected; from saddling
the public with an unnecessary paperwork burden that amounts
to a hidden additional annual tax of at least $250 billion;
or from burdening businesses with complex regulations that
impair economic growth by at least $750 billion per year.
Ironically, when it comes to money and the economy, most of
the government's greatest abuses are because of elections.
The 10-pound tax code consists mostly of complex special indulgences
granted by Congress in exchange for votes. The same is true
of the warehouse full of federal regulations on every subject
In addition, vast amounts of government spending - perhaps
as much as 25% - seem primarily to serve the re-election needs
of incumbent members of Congress.
It will take an extraordinary president and an extraordinary
election to reclaim America from the bipartisan political
combine of a few elected officials and lots of bureaucrats,
lawyers and lobbyists in Washington.
Christian, an attorney, was a deputy assistant secretary
of the Treasury in the Ford administration. Robbins, an economist,
served at the Treasury Department in the Reagan administration.
Both are adjunct scholars at the Heritage Foundation.