I have been thinking a lot lately about the many ways that government has become a provider or enabler of many economic activities. We take it for granted that government should provide for our retirement (Social Security) which is why we have a looming crisis. We hardly consider, let alone actively question, the necessity of having government subsidize the production of various foods (Farm Subsidies). The idea of having a private industry for educating our children sounds like class warfare (Public Education). We think it irresponsible that anyone should have to rely on the support of family, friends, and neighbors – instead we blindly expect them to rely on help administered by complete strangers (Food Stamps and Unemployment Insurance). We can’t imagine that anyone besides the government can fund our exploration for new energy sources and now we are sure that government needs to nationalize our health care system.
I have concluded that, if Social Security and the 1930’s was any indication, the problem that caused this mindset was that we enacted a permanent solution to solve a temporary problem. The result is that our attitudes have changed so that we are willing to preemptively create permanent government solutions to perceived potential problems. The only solution that I can see is to automatically have an expiration date for government programs (excluding the three branches of government) so that they have to be explicitly reauthorized on a regular basis (perhaps every decade as the default and shorter if the authorization specifies a shorter time period). We could then stop looking for ways to make Social Security solvent forever and look at reasonable ways to phase it out, just like Senator Lugar is trying to do with farm subsidies (and he’s a farmer by birth).