Sunday, July 3, 2011

Only in America

Here is a video of a Senators Sanders and Franken having to justify the Older Americans Act (passed in 1965) to freshman Senator Rand Paul. This Act provides services to seniors so that they can stay in their homes and avoid having to move to a nursing home. Not only does this seem like a laudable goal in and of itself, it also saves the government money, because nursing home care costs considerably more than providing such home care to seniors.

Senator Paul is so steeped in the conviction that all government programs must be wasteful and/or useless, however, that he responds that "only in Washington" can someone make the argument that spending $2 billion actually saves money. Even granting Paul his skepticism about the benefits of government programs, this seems a surprising comment to make for someone who is supposedly familiar with the business world. Because of course it's not only the government that spends money to save money. Private business does this all the time. A business spends money on new equipment when it is more efficient and more productive than maintaining the old equipment. A business spends money on providing a comfortable and safe environment for its employees, because that is cheaper than paying the costs of accidents and other employee claims that would result from an unsafe environment. A business spends money on providing service to its customers because that is cheaper than dealing with customer complaints, and helps the company sell more of its products. In fact, it is a cliche in business that you have to spend money to make money. Business people say this all the time.

I would turn Senator Paul's question around. Generally business has no difficulty justifying expenditures in the name of efficiency. Why is it that it's only the government that seems to cut programs that deal with prevention (whether we're talking about education, drugs, health, road maintenance, crime, whatever) out of concern with short term budget goals? Because we do that, as Senator Sanders points out, we spend twice as much on health care as any other country (by for example, forcing the uninsured to rely on emergency rooms for care), and put more people in prison than any other country. Only in America do we have to waste time justifying even common sense programs like providing meals to the elderly.


  1. "Only in America"

    Are your sure about that? That is a provocative statement. After all, as you correctly said, the Older Americans Act was passed in 1965! I can only guess that you meant to call out Rand Paul, not America.

  2. I meant that only in America do we seem to have this kind of debate. I don't think you see it so much in Canada or England or France or Germany, even when the more conservative parties take power. And maybe it's not altogether a bad thing to have someone like Rand Paul in the Senate questioning the most basic assumptions of Great Society or New Deal programs.

    But it gets a bit tiresome sometimes. And it leads to wastefulness. Because the net result of having somebody like Rand Paul sniping at the budget expenditures for programs that help keep people out of nursing homes, is that we end up spending more money on nursing homes than we need to.

  3. If this law has been passed what will this nursing homes do? They'll lose income in which also lessens their quality of service.

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