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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily

Bad Policy Drives Out Good

by Sheldon Richman for the Foundation For Economic Education

All public policies are related. Okay, that may be a slight overstatement, but there’s a point here. A politician’s credibility on one public issue—and even the disposition of that issue—will often be determined by his or her position on other issues. People will look at a politician’s full program as a way of judging good faith.

Case in point: President Bush’s veto of the bill to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to even more families that do not qualify for poverty programs because they make too much money. (A family of four with an income as much as three times the poverty level—$62,000—would have qualified.) He opposes expansion of SCHIP because “when you expand eligibility . . . you’re really beginning to open up an avenue for people to switch from private insurance to the government.” (This in fact has happened, according to the Congressional Budget Office.) Moving from private insurance to the government dole would undermine self-responsibility, he said.

Really, he said that—the same public official as the one who added universal drug coverage to Medicare. Back then he was undeterred by predictions that retired people would drop their private coverage in favor of the government program.

There’s another level of hypocrisy, though. Given the existence of a federally financed state medical program for low-income families, it is surely wise not to enlarge the coverage to include middle-income people who have or can obtain private insurance. So in itself the veto is unobjectionable, even laudable. But the administration’s action won’t be judged on its own merits. That may be regrettable, but it’s a fact. In politics public opinion matters, and perceived intentions shape public opinion. Ignoring this is self-defeating. To put it bluntly: how can the Bush administration hope to persuade people that the government should not subsidize middle-class children’s medical care when it is famously on record supporting billions of dollars in subsidies and other privileges for big corporations, including agribusinesses.

It can’t. It has no credibility whatever in the matter. Non-ideological middle-of-the-road voters, who elect people to office, are likely to suspect the worst when they see a politician push energy, “defense,” and farm bills that transfer huge amounts of taxpayer money to wealthy individuals and companies while opposing health coverage for children in middle-class families.

And why shouldn’t they suspect the worst? When the President lectures working people about self-responsibility, might they not wonder why self-responsibility isn’t also expected of energy companies that find privileges included in energy bills, “defense” contractors that make things of dubious value to the average person, and agribusiness and food-processing companies that get ethanol subsidies and other guarantees?

Don’t get me wrong. SCHIP shouldn’t have been created ten years ago (mind you, by a Republican Congress and President Clinton). And now that it exists, it shouldn’t be expanded to cover more and more children. That will indeed undermine parental self-responsibility and give government even more power over medicine. The government has wreaked enough havoc with this country’s medical system.

But no politician who embraces corporate welfare in all its varieties can credibly oppose the SCHIP expansion. All he accomplishes is to make opposition to government health coverage look callous and cynical. With friends like that, the free market hardly needs enemies.

There’s a lesson here. When a prominent figure holds a mixture of good and bad policy positions, the bad ones damage the good. It’s a form of Gresham’s Law. Inconsistent and seemingly insincere defenders of freedom harm the cause.

Keep this in mind when picking political allies.

The U.S. government has spent $10 trillion on the war on poverty, and what does it have to show for it? Precious little besides a bloated bureaucracy, says Christopher Lingle.

If the politicians really cared about the poor, they would have long ago figured out what they need to do: Get out of the way. Charles Johnson shows how the state creates poverty.

Much opposition to unconditional free trade can be explained in a single word: fear. As Mark Hendrickson demonstrates, even legitimate fears don’t justify protectionism.

Misunderstanding of the benefits of immigration can be traced back at least to the Roman Empire, when Marcus Aurelius mistook allies for enemies. Harold Jones, Jr., conducts the historical journey.

Here’s what our columnists have been working on: Richard Ebeling remembers the father of the welfare state. Lawrence Reed pauses to honor an uncommon woman. Thomas Szasz exposes the medicalization of everyday life. Stephen Davies recaps the debate over the scope of government. John Stossel finds effective competition in medical services. David Henderson reconsiders Ebenezer Scrooge. And Joshua Hall, encountering the argument that uneven information creates markets for “lemons,” protests, “It Just Ain’t So!”

Ivan Pongracic, Jr.’s September article about Milton Friedman and the Great Depression is the subject of a lively exchange in Capital Letters.

Books on the Internet, media mangling of economic statistics, entrepreneurship, and environmentalism occupy our reviews this issue.

December is also the time for our year-end index, prepared by managing editor Beth Hoffman.

This article was originally published by the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) in The Freeman on December 01, 2007.

About The Author

Sheldon Richman is the editor of The Freeman and In brief. The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), one of the oldest free-market organizations in the United States, was founded in 1946 by Leonard E. Read to study and advance the freedom philosophy. FEE's mission is to offer the most consistent case for the "first principles" of freedom: the sanctity of private property, individual liberty, the rule of law, the free market, and the moral superiority of individual choice and responsibility over coercion.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.