An Elephant Is Not A Good Choice For Watch Repairer
Jennifer Rubin, at the WaPo, points out that big government -- specifically the federal government -- is a ginormous and brutish force not well-suited to doing anything with a level of detail. For example, preschool programs:
President Obama's State of the Union address offers a fine example of the liberal adage that if something is a good idea, the government must do it -- specifically, the federal government must do it. This overlooks several inescapable facts: We are out of money; the government doesn't have any particular expertise to do certain things (e.g. pick successful green-energy companies); and the federal government often adds an extra level of bureaucracy and cost to what will be run by state or local authorities.
Take preschool. Here, we're not certain it is even a good idea. The results from years of Head Start have been abysmal and, while a number of state programs are more promising, data on them is sketchy.
...What the federal government would be doing (in taking over preschooling) is alleviating the states of a key responsibility: the obligation to set priorities. Are public-employee pensions more valuable than universal preschool? Are electric trains to nowhere more important than universal preschool? If states would start making some hard choices (or even some pretty easy ones), they'd then have the dedicated revenue stream from their own taxpayers to do things they think are good ideas and they can administer in ways they have found effective.
Now, all of this said, one of the primary reasons for entitlement reform (aside from the going-broke part) is to correct our over-shifting of government benefits from the young to the old. So let's ask a different question: Is giving Warren Buffett free health care more important than spending money on universal preschool? If the president would ever relinquish his fantasy that we can keep Medicare and Social Security exactly the way they are, we'd have more money to think about human capital development, early childhood education, etc. Some of those still might be better done at the state level. But I would submit we cannot begin to have that discussion about federal vs. state control until we stop the entitlement beast from swallowing the entire federal budget.
This is precisely why liberals should be the first ones demanding entitlement reform, especially means-testing. If we don't do that, we'll not have the money (as we now don't) for all the things they think are good ideas and they can show are best done by the federal government. Obama never wants to make those "hard choices," as he says. But in the real world, lawmakers and voters must.