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Thursday, September 13, 2007

9. Exit Strategy

The Left has repeatedly claimed that Bush entered Iraq without first defining an exit strategy and that such a strategy still does not exist. If one does exist I’m guessing that Bush may not be interested in discussing it with Ted, Nancy, Harry or Hillary. But the basic question is valid – what defines success, what defines failure and at what point should a program or strategy be abandoned?

In general, I don’t have much faith in the government’s ability to solve problems. This isn’t based merely on my personal ideology; it is based on the lack of results of the vast majority of government programs such as social security, welfare and the public school system. Before implementing these programs and even now that they continue, shouldn’t we define success and failure? Shouldn’t we lay out an exit strategy?

Despite the Left’s claims that conservatives want to privatize social security to make the rich richer while starving little old ladies, the fact is that for the money paid into the system, participants could be retiring in comfort rather than their current state of poverty. In 2005, the average monthly social security payment to an individual was $895 – hardly enough for someone to enjoy their golden years. Although Social Security was created primarily as a safety net, Americans currently pay enough into the system to create a comfortable retirement if it were privatized. Someone earning $35,000 a year currently pays $2,170 into the non-Medicare portion of SSI and the amount is matched by their employer. Instead, if the participant contributed the same amount into an IRA for 43 years (age 22 to age 65) and assuming only a 6% average annual return they would receive over $5,600 a month in private retirement income. Hillary recently declared Social Security as “…the most successful domestic program in the history of the United States.” Michael Moore had similar comments during an interview on CNN. Let’s see - $5,600 a month privately compared to $895 a month through a government program, hmmm, success or failure for SSI? Hillary? Mike? Comments?

In the mid-1960s then President Lyndon Johnson created his “War on Poverty.” How is that war faring? According to Economist Thomas Sowell, “The number of people receiving public assistance more than doubled from 1960 to1977. The money spent on public housing rose nearly fivefold in a decade and the amount spent on food stamps rose more than tenfold. Government-provided benefits in kind increased about eightfold from 1965 to 1969 and more than twenty-fold by 1974.” Mr. Sowell also estimates that nearly seventy cents of every welfare dollar never gets to the intended beneficiary instead going to administrative costs such as rent and salaries of the government staff. Imagine the outrage if a charity such as the United Way or the Red Cross so poorly managed your contributions.

Another front on the “war on poverty” is in the Appalachian Region of the United States. Over a thirty-five year period, from 1964 to 1999, the federal government’s Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) spent over $7.4 billion trying to improve the conditions in this impoverished region. Of the 214 counties defined in the Appalachia Region, the number of counties defined as “distressed” grew from 59 in 1980 to 78 in 1990 and increased to 83 in 2000 according to a June 2002 report prepared by MDC, Inc. Although other reports indicate marginal improvement, this region still has poverty rates 21% higher than the national average with Owsley County, Kentucky leading with a poverty rate of 40.9%! Has the $7.4 billion been well spent? Are we winning the war? Is there a definition of success or of failure? Is there an exit strategy? No, and the “war” rages on with no end in sight.

What about public education? How goes the “war on illiteracy?” In spite of the billions of dollars spent each year over 50% of children still leave the school system functionally illiterate with that number soaring to over 75% in the inner cities. Private schools and even public charter schools in the same neighborhoods perform far better and at far lower costs, yet the cry from the Left is that public schools are under funded. A San Francisco court ruled in 1976 that there was no duty for the state to provide a minimum level of skill in the public school system and they have no duty to ensure that our children are actually educated! Not only is there not a definition for success or failure but there is not even a requirement to succeed. Exit strategy? Please.

Hillary is once again talking about socialized medicine. Her prior proposal would force us all into her plan – like it or not. There were even criminal penalties and jail time for both doctors and patients trying to circumvent the plan. Although I strongly disagree that her approach would improve any aspect of healthcare, I would possibly agree to some government intervention providing there were clear, objective and measurable definitions of success and failure and a point at which should these objectives not be met, the program dissolved. How likely is that to happen? I’d say the odds are zero. The fear among not only the Congressional Republicans in the 1990s but also many Democrats was that once implemented, there was no turning back. Once in place, this new bureaucratic monster would never die regardless of the results of the program.

The goals and objectives of these government programs may be noble, but they should still fall under the same scrutiny as the war in Iraq. Before we set up one more government program, especially one as massive as HillaryCare, we should first define the goals of such a program and ensure that those goals are both objective and measurable. We should define both success and failure and most importantly, if the program fails to meet our objectives, then a pre-planned exit strategy should be exercised.

Does this make sense only to me?

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