Published July 12, 2011
When I hear conservative critics of government getting in the way of business, I always think about a trucking executive I know who shared the same complaints -- until I pointed out that he made his fortunate running rigs across the government highway system.
How’d you get to work today? Did you drive on a road dug and paved by the private company you work for? Or maybe you took a bus or train that your employer personally invested in?
Over 90% of American school children attend public schools. Over 89% of Americans get the water in their homes from public water systems. One-in-ten households get electricity from public power plants, and those households are disproportionately located in rural, hard-to-serve communities that lack the incentives for private investment. Plus, recall that originally, even most private electrical grids were public investments --- before they were sold into private hands. Plus don’t forget about the police and firefighters and search and rescue teams that hopefully you don’t need everyday but fortunately are there when you do need them.
In fact, researchers at Cornell University found that many Americans who even more directly benefit from government spending deny that government helps them personally.
Did you know that so-called "529" savings programs for your kids’ college tuition are subsidized through favorable tax status with the government? Well, 64% of 529 investors don’t think they use government programs.
Do you own a home and benefit from favorable mortgage interest deductions? At least 60% of Americans who do also don’t think they get government help.
Even 44% of Social Security recipients, 39% of Medicare recipients, and a whopping 27% of welfare recipients --- the mother of all government social programs that conservatives love to hate -- don’t believe they are beneficiaries of government social spending.
Political rhetoric is one thing. Facts are another.
The fact is that while the private market is undoubtedly the best way to create wealth and innovation in America, we know that left to its own devices and unchecked by any other forces, the market will also produce enormous inequality impossible for subsequent generations to surmount.
Chances are your kids will not become one of the 400 very, very wealthy millionaires and billionaires in America but one of the 307,000,000 of the rest of us who serve them. If that’s your idea of success, then by all means support conservative anti-government rhetoric that denies your children the government stepping stools on which big business and the rich so heavily depended.
Of course government isn’t perfect. But every time there’s a corporate scandal or even, say, excessive risk-taking and profit-seeking on Wall Street threatens to crash the entire economy, we don’t throw out capitalism, do we?
The fact is that, whether you want to admit it or not, it was government spending on social programs --- from the crop insurance and housing subsidies to the GI bill --- that got our nation out of the Great Depression, put the private sector back on its feet an created fairly prosperous decades for America thereafter. Oh, and do note that during that recovery, the ratio of government debt to GDP was even higher than it is now.
An all-powerful government is not the solution. But slashing government in order to provide more and more resources to big business and the super-rich who our government already bailed out and who are now reaping historic profits but still aren’t creating jobs --- that’s not a solution, either. Just as we need the private sector, we need government programs that shore up the middle class and create a fair ladder of opportunity for all. Like it or not, you need government, too.
Sally Kohn writes frequently for Fox News Opinion. She is the founder and Chief Education Officer of the Movement Vision Lab, a grassroots think tank. You can follow her on Twitter@sallykohn.