A former student, a bright and compassionate former student, posted this response as a comment to my post about a speech of President Obama:

I guess I will be the outsider here. I understand (and partially agree) with your sentiment. But the things President Obama listed are concerns that I do think we need the government to address. We need the government to stand in and protect our drinking water and air. Because if they don’t, who will? And I can’t imagine telling someone who is sick and without health insurance that they should figure it on their own. And if a high school graduate wants to go to school but his family can’t afford it, we should help educate him – this could be in the form of low interest loans, not just necessarily grants. I would say that something needs to be done about the exorbitant cost of tuition these days. I think that tuition is so high because we try and push everyone towards college, instead of acknowledge that other careers are important in our society, as well, and there is no shame in not going to college.

At the very least, wouldn’t you admit that it is the government’s job to ensure that there is a fair and level playing field for the people? This way, self-reliance has a much greater chance of getting you somewhere. Honestly, I just don’t think that everyone who works hard will end up well-off. Plenty of people work very hard hours and multiple jobs and still can’t pay all of their bills.

I may be an idealist, but I am glad my tax dollars go to help a young, single mother feed her kids when she can’t make ends meet. Yeah, it may be her fault that she got pregnant when she couldn’t afford it. Or, her husband could have up and left her. Either way, should her kids starve and lose a mother because of those things? What about my grandmothers, who couldn’t afford to go see the doctor without medicare? Should we tell them, “tough stuff, it’s your job to get the thousands of dollars you need for your medical bills”? We should help each other out. After all, we are all people.

On the other hand, I do acknowledge that many politicians are in the pockets of corporations. So, we really are in a mess.

I thought his comments were worthy of more attention, and I wanted to respond to him with my thoughts. So I turned his comments into a whole new post.

Why does it have to be the government or nobody? If I disagree that the government should provide, why does that automatically and only mean that I’m saying “You’re on your own?” Is the only thing that protects our air and water the government? Are there alternatives to health care that don’t require the government or “figuring it out on their own?” What happened to saving (deferring consumption) in order to protect yourself? I’m intentionally being overly simplistic, but I think the thought that if the government doesn’t take over and protect us then every evil corporation and insurance company will screw us over is equally simplistic. You talk of government financial assistance for college and in the next phrase decry the high tuition – government subsidies in the form of loans and grants increase demand and thereby inflate the price. What happened to the idea that the high school graduate who can’t afford college might have to wait a few years while they work and save before they pay for their own college education (and if demand for college decreases, maybe tuition will fall and the higher education bubble will pop like the housing bubble popped.) The government is part of the cause of many of the problems you mention. Government health care, especially Medicare, is a leading reason that health care expenses have risen so drastically and become unaffordable.

I agree totally that government should provide a level playing field. I disagree that the field is unfair, or to the extent that it is unfair, I blame government for tilting the field. I don’t believe everyone who works hard will end up well-off, but I don’t think the role of government is to redistribute wealth. In what way is redistribution a leveling of the playing field?

I have no problem with government assistance to those who need it – my health care solution would have had the government provide health care directly for those who couldn’t afford it rather than to mess with the incentives by separating the consumer from the payors. To me that would be a more efficient solution, wouldn’t create incorrect incentives and malinvestment, and would still take care of the needs of those who need help.

But the main thing I didn’t like about the President’s speech was the usual political rhetorical trick that this President in particular is so prone to use – You either agree with him or, if you don’t agree with his ideas or his plan then you believe: “If you get sick, you’re on your own. If you can’t afford college, you’re on your own. If you don’t like that some corporation is polluting your air or the air that your child breathes, then you’re on your own.” There are more ways to skin these cats, and to constantly polarize and misconstrue the positions of your opponents doesn’t lead to solutions or an environment where compromise is possible.

And as my wise wife points out, who is the government anyway? When did it become something independent of the citizens? Where does the government get its authority to govern or its money to spend? Why do we forget the the government is us? (We have met the enemy, and it is us. Pogo)

And yes, I don’t trust government to be efficient or responsive nearly as much as I trust individuals and markets.

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