Years ago, car magazines tested tires. I mean they tested them. In addition to the usual on-the-car tests of handling and braking, they also tested high-speed endurance. They mounted the tire on a laboratory wheel; adjusted the pressure, temperature, and load; and then slowly increased the speed as the tire spun on a roller. Eventually the tread would separate or spin off chunks of rubber, or the sidewall would burst.
The endpoint was the destruction of the tire. Thus if a tire flew apart at 120 miles per hour, you could feel safe when driving at 70, assuming you had not severely overloaded or under-inflated it. You had that margin of safety so prized by engineers.
The test was conducted in the safety of the laboratory. No one would think of mounting the tires on his own car, then driving faster and faster to see when the tires disintegrated. If he did, he would not have to worry about saving for retirement. Yet that is exactly what many people actually do − not with tires, but in other ways.
Think about it. When the government initiates a new social or economic policy, or when a court renders a decision ordering that something be done, we should always ask one question: What is the endpoint? And in many cases, there isn’t any.
For example, take school lunches. The government began offering low-cost or free school lunches to students from poor families. Then the program widened − as government programs almost always do − to include breakfasts and suppers, and to be available to students not in poverty.
But how was “success” defined? In effect, it was defined as students eating government-provided food. Of course, if this was “success,” there could be no failure. Who could oppose such a program? Feed hungry kids? What’s wrong with that?
I’ll tell you what’s wrong. How about increasing dependency on government in general, and the Democratic Party specifically? How about decreasing responsibility to feed your own children? How about abdication of yet another aspect of parenthood to the government? Yes, but who cares? Who even notices? Besides, that is the plan:
This also necessitates the dissolution of the single family as society’s economic unit…The care and upbringing of children becomes a public matter.
– Friedrich Engels, co-founder with Karl Marx of communism
And what is the endpoint? That is, at what point would we say we were giving enough food to students and could stop expanding the program? Or at what point would we say the program is harmful and cut it back? There is no endpoint. The program will continue − as government programs almost always do − until every student gets three government meals a day, or the government goes broke, whichever comes first.
But providing one, two, or even three meals daily to students was still not enough. Even more control had to be exercised. The government, from the First Lady on down, mandated “healthy” meals. The problem is that kids often find the food repulsive and throw it away. Then they buy junk food if they can, or go hungry. So in effect, the lesson many students learn is not to eat healthful food, but to throw food away − exactly the opposite of what we were taught as children.
It’s a sign of the times that “repulsive school lunch” yields 256 million hits on Google. And thanks to Michael Bowman for this updated “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which begins:
Mine eyes have seen the kitchen,
which is why I bring my lunch.
The same thing holds for food stamps. More people are on food stamps now than ever before − 44.7 million. But how this fact is viewed depends on the viewer. When Newt Gingrich called Barack Obama the “food-stamp president,” he meant to say that the economy has deteriorated so far that more people than ever need food stamps. But liberals took the insult as a compliment − what better way is there to show Obama is “compassionate”? Some even accused Gingrich of racism, though the majority of people on food stamps are white.
Here we come to the same problem − what is “success”? More people on food stamps, obviously. What are you, some kind of Scrooge? And what is the endpoint? At what point do we stop giving food stamps to more people? There is no defined endpoint. We will stop expanding the program when everyone is on food stamps, or when the government goes broke, whichever comes first.
Poor people tend to be on food stamps, and poor people tend to be obese. I would be willing to bet that there is a positive correlation between food stamps and obesity. Of course, no one would bother to collect such data, or if he did, no one would publish it. Political incorrectness trumps truth every time. Granted, many people − especially poor children, the disabled, and the elderly − really need food assistance. What I am saying is that without an endpoint, the program will continue to expand − like the tire − until it bursts.
Why do liberals adore programs that have no endpoints? There are two possible explanations. The more charitable explanation is that liberals see themselves as intrinsically good, because they have good beliefs. Likewise, they believe that their programs are intrinsically good, regardless of whether the programs actually work. The programs make liberals feel good, and that’s what’s really important, isn’t it?
The less charitable explanation is that these programs are not intended to work. They are intended not to work, so that more and more control can be imposed on our daily lives. Do some social programs exacerbate the breakup of poor families, especially black families? Who cares? This produces more single mothers − and more Democratic voters. The object is not to solve social problems. The object is to prolong the problems, and thus prolong the justification for the programs − and increase the power of the bureaucrats.
There is always a “crisis” that justifies the government in taking away still more of our freedoms. “Global warming” is only one of many such crises demanding “urgent action.” But even if global warming exists, will compact fluorescent bulbs alleviate it? Who cares? Yes, they cost more, contain toxic mercury, and are made in China. But “going green” makes liberals feel good, and that’s what’s really important, isn’t it?
Did Roosevelt’s New Deal programs shorten the Great Depression, or prolong it? Does sex education decrease teen pregnancy, or increase it? Do strict gun-control laws decrease violent crime, or increase it? Does abolishing the death penalty just make us feel good, or does it increase homicide? Does greatly increasing school funding improve test scores, or does it just make us feel good?
We can argue endlessly about these and many other programs. We can quote theories proposed by noted “experts.” We can offer opinions on how things ought to be. But all this is irrelevant. The only real question is: Does the program work? To answer this question, we need definitions of “success” and “failure.” And we need an endpoint.
No sane person would test tires to destruction on his own car. No rational person would drive faster and faster, the only endpoint being literally the end point. Yet is that not exactly what we are doing to our own country?
Are we not expanding, multiplying, and intensifying a host of social and economic programs, but without clearly defined endpoints? Are we not passing hundreds of new laws every year, but repealing only a few? Are we not issuing thousands of new regulations every year, but rescinding only a few? Are we not initiating scores of new programs every year, but terminating hardly any?
A good definition of a conservative is one who insists that every government program have an endpoint. That way, we will stop testing our country to destruction − before we succeed in destroying it.
Dr. Stolinsky writes on political and social issues. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.