January 19, 2000
In the televised presidential debates, Alan Keyes keeps reminding
us that moral and cultural issues are paramount, and he challenges the
media and his opponents to address them. While most would concede that
Columbine and other recent unhappy events indicate that America has a
big moral problem, what is the government's role in morality and
We don't expect our president to be our preacher or our Big
Brother or our nanny or our morality policeman. But we should insist
that the federal government do no harm.
Yet, so many federal programs, even when designed to do good, have
followed the law of unintended consequences and been downright harmful.
Exhibit A is probably the liberal welfare program, whose enormous
expansion dates from Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. It is widely
acknowledged to be a disaster, which is why welfare reform was one of
the few Republican bills that Bill Clinton signed.
Unfortunately, the welfare program was not merely a failure. It
was a major contributor to the social problem of illegitimacy because
it made fathers irrelevant by routing its cash and other benefits
exclusively through mothers.
It's generally admitted that our nation has lost the war on drugs
or at least is in big-time retreat. It's possible that the billions of
federal tax dollars spent on drug education is another
Since more kids are now using illegal drugs, is government drug
education a failed program, or has it encouraged more children to
experiment with illegal drugs? Some people think the latter because
most drug-education courses teach children to make their own decisions
about drugs instead of explicitly warning them that drugs are wrong and
Planned Parenthood-style sex education has been taught in the
public schools for the last 25 years. It certainly hasn't achieved its
purpose of preventing teenage sex, and some now say it has exacerbated
the problem by inviting children to cast aside their natural modesty
and assume that pre-marital teen sex is normal.
How about the devastating way that high taxes have driven wives
and mothers into the labor force? A generation ago, a father could
support his family, and the average couple with two children paid only
two percent of its income in federal income taxes.
Today, federal taxes take 24 percent of the average family income.
The chief reason wives "have to work" is to pay the tax collector.
The government is to blame for the fact that more than 40 million
Americans lack health insurance. Federal laws have rigged the system
so that, unless you work for a company that can afford a health plan,
it is difficult or impossible for an individual to get insurance.
So many mothers, who would rather be fulltime homemakers or take
only part-time employment, are the victims of "job lock": they don't
dare quit and lose their health insurance. Before the government
starts imposing new regulations, it should remedy its own mistakes and
fix the system so that employees can own their own health insurance
just as they own their own automobile insurance.
Public schools rank at the top of most people's worry list. Yet,
nothing the federal government can do will significantly improve
schools since state and local levels of government are responsible for
94 percent of the funding.
The 6 percent spent by the federal government has probably done
more harm than good. The biggest amount of federal money goes to Title
I projects to help disadvantaged children, but the government's own
evaluations show that the program to be a costly failure.
Lots of federal money goes for "learning disabled" or "at risk"
schoolchildren. A noble purpose, indeed, but the financial incentive
to hang those unhappy labels on children causes many to suffer those
A big portion of federal education money goes for bilingual
education. The California parents who observed this system first hand,
voted overwhelmingly to abolish it because of the harm it does in
keeping immigrant children speaking their native language instead of
We heard a lot of bleeding-heart appeals for Congress to
appropriate funds to reduce class size and hire more teachers. Now,
Education Secretary Richard Riley says that the schools have hired
250,000 teachers without proper preparation in course content.
Achievement has gone down instead of up.
It isn't only Congress and the executive branch that cause moral
problems. Activist court decisions have brought about the flood of
pornography and other immorality involved in television, movies,
magazines and libraries.
It wouldn't be so bad if waste were the only bad result of big
government. We should address the moral and cultural problems by first
remedying the harm done by federal spending and wrong-headed policies.