Is government good at what it does? In a column last year, Jonah Goldberg of the Los Angeles Times knocks down some tenets that many of us have just assumed are gospel.
For example, Goldberg points out that Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute believes the United States' biggest success in reducing poverty came not after Lyndon Johnson declared war on it in the mid-'60s, "but when President Eisenhower ignored it."
In the years 1949 to 1962, the poverty rate was cut in half.
We decided to independently check out what has happened since the war on poverty was declared. While the country has been at war with poverty for almost a half a century, the Census Bureau reported that in 2010, 46.2 million people (15.1 percent of the population) had earnings below the poverty level. It was the highest number in the 52 years official poverty estimates have been published. (Source: Miami Herald, Sept. 9, 2011.)
Hmm . . . this would certainly appear to be one war we are definitely losing. We've been fighting it for 46 years and this is the worst year on record.
Goldberg's column also tackles health insurance. His column cites Duke University professor Christopher Conover's study that shows the biggest gains in health care coverage occurred when government was less involved - before the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1966. Conover notes that in 1940, 90 percent of Americans were uninsured. By 1960, it was only 25 percent.
Again, trying to check things independently, we discovered that the Census Bureau reported in September 2010 that the number of uninsured Americans had gone up to 50.7 million. (Source: USA Today, Sept. 17, 2010.) That represented 16.7 percent of citizens. Now, that is down from the 25 percent in 1960 - but don't forget, in 1960 Medicare and Medicaid didn't exist. All health insurance was private.
That means those massive government programs have only resulted in a gain of less than 9 percent of Americans having health insurance. It also means, of course, that a lot of Americans have shifted from private to public coverage.
This cursory examination of two examples of intervention appears to show extraordinary inefficiency by government. Maybe the Libertarians are right - the best government is the least government.
(A version of this editorial has appeared previously in The Maui News.)
* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.