Nearly 50 years after John F. Kennedy's famous inaugural address —"Ask not what your country can do for you —ask what you can do for your country" — we have totally forgotten what he meant. It seems everything is government-centered now.
Why is government beyond question and accountability? Think it is not? There was a 2,400-page monstrosity of a financial reform bill just signed into law. Does it fix the major causes of the financial meltdown we had two years ago? No.
And government is beyond question. Who is the largest recipient of taxpayer bailout money? Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, quasi-governmental organizations. And who is specifically excluded from the financial reform? Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Remember Bernie Madoff? Would financial reform have prevented his Ponzi scheme? No. And who has been given additional powers to regulate the investment business? The SEC, the agency in charge previously. What's the saying? Screw up and move up? Works in government.
Since the start of 2009, 251 U.S. banks have failed. Who regulates banks? The FDIC. Who just got broadened powers to regulate banks? The FDIC. Looks like a pattern.
Congress criticized the mortgage industry. It criticized high loan-to-value mortgages and poor financial standards, the so-called liars' loans. Who offers the highest loan-to-value loans right now? The government (FHA). Who offers the loosest underwriting standards? The government. The mortgage modification program, put in to help people in trouble refinance their mortgages, recently had a huge number of participants drop out. Why? The government decided to ask for verification of income and assets. Sounds like they do liars' loans, doesn't it?
Did the mortgage modification program work? Very poorly. And the law of unintended consequences is proven true. One homeowner renegotiates his mortgage, dropping rates and balances, but their neighbor can't. Why? Because the neighbor skimped and did without, but made their payments. Those who were responsible are penalized, while those who over-extended themselves are rewarded. Now we have strategic defaults. People capable of paying their mortgages are walking away, because they are underwater. Hey, if the government can allow some people to do it, why not everyone? Good question.
In health care reform, the government suggests companies set up voluntary long-term care plans. Strictly employee paid, the coverage is from a government plan, not from an insurance company. What happens to the premiums paid? It funds health care reform, but no reserves are set up to pay claims. Fifteen years from now, when someone has a claim, where does the money come from? Congress already has spent the money, so it will have to raise taxes to pay the benefits. Typical governmental system. We have rules insurance companies have to follow, but the government is exempt.
Christina Romer, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote a paper about 12 years ago. In it, she proved taxes have a negative impact on the economy. Her specific points: a $1 rise in government spending leads to a $1 drop in private investment; and a $1 increase in taxes results in a $3 decrease in private spending. In November 2008, she further wrote that tax cuts can increase economic output. Romer recently resigned as chair of President Obama's Council on Economic Advisers. This administration is raising government spending and taxes, so I have a question for her: Was she lying then, or is she lying now?
We used to call government workers public servants. Over the past 50 years, I think the roles have been reversed. Our national motto has become the old IRS saying: "Trust me, I'm from the government, and I'm here to help." Except now we believe it.