I got to thinking. Last week I was challenged to name ‘a single” successful government program. I’m always amazed at how often I get asked this question, and how every time the questioner seems amazed that anyone could name one — that the whole idea of a useful public program is ridiculous.
So, in 20 minutes of thinking (most spent formatting), here are a few:
National Security: 1. U.S. Army and Marine Corps. 2. WWII and the Cold War. 3. The nuclear nonproliferation treaty. 4. U.S. contributions to the U.N.’s World Health Organization’s successful effort to eradicate smallpox worldwide (they did).
Education: 1. University of California (e.g., Berkeley and UCSD). 2. Pell grants for college for low-income citizens. 3. The GI bill.
Public Infrastructure: 1. Interstate highway system. 2. Hoover Damn and the Lincoln Tunnel. 3. Rural electrification.
Environment: 1. Clean Water Act. 2. Clean Air Act. 3. sulfur emissions cap and trade system to eliminate acid rain (carbon cap and trade would be modelled on it).
Social Insurance: 1. Social Security (It is a myth that it is going bankrupt; it’s on a sounder footing than any other USG program). 2. Medicare (yes, it is going bankrupt, but it controls costs better than the private insurance sector. Also, it has administrative costs equal to 2% of total program costs; Most private insurers are around 20%. 3. The Earned Income Tax Credit (originally Milton Friedman’s idea).
Financial Stability/Consumer Protection: 1. Federal bank deposit insurance. 2. Glass Steagal Act (repealed in 1999 by a lapdog Congress). 3. The banning of lead in consumer products, probably the most underrated contribution to human health in American history.
Justice: 1. The Civil Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. 2. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Other: 1. National Institute of Health and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 3. NOAA and NASA. 4. My 20 minutes just ended.
What About the Failures? Excellent point. I’ll do another post on them, later. Ideas/arguments?