NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Cut Public Programs that Don't Yield Results

July 14, 2011

Barack Obama has been accused of "class warfare" because he favors closing several tax loopholes as part of the deficit-cutting process.  This is a curious charge: class warfare seems to be a one-way street in American politics.  Over the past 30 years, the superwealthy have waged far more effective warfare against the poor and the middle class, via their tools in Congress, than the other way around.  How else can one explain the fact that the oil companies, despite elephantine profits, are still subsidized by the federal government?  How else can one explain the fact that hedge-fund managers pay lower tax rates than their file clerks?  Or that farm subsidies originally meant for family farmers go to huge corporations that hardly need the help?  Actually, there is an additional explanation, says Time Magazine journalist Joe Klein.

  • Conservatives, like liberals, routinely take advantage of a structural flaw in the modern welfare state.
  • Both "liberal" and "conservative" subsidies linger in perpetuity, sometimes metastasizing into embarrassing giveaways.
  • Even the best-intentioned programs are allowed to languish in waste and incompetence.

Take, for example, the famed early-education program called Head Start.

  • Head Start did work well in several pilot programs carefully run by professionals in the 1960s, and so it was "taken to scale" as part of Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty.
  • It is now 45 years later.
  • We spend more than $7 billion providing Head Start to nearly 1 million children each year.
  • And finally there is indisputable evidence about the program's effectiveness, provided by the Department of Health and Human Services: Head Start simply does not work.

We can no longer afford to be sloppy about dispensing cash to programs that do not produce a return, says Klein.

Source: Joe Klein, "Time to Ax Public Programs that Don't Yield Results," Time Magazine, July 7, 2011.

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