How to Encourage Waste


Established in 1953 by President Eisenhower, the United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare has since been showered in the tender mercies of several administrations. This mega-agency got stuffed with taxpayers' money the way my wife stuffs our suitcases before our trips to Bulgaria. With more than a hundred thousand paper-pushers affecting the life of every single citizen, it was the second largest bureaucratic empire in human history, and the American people quickly found a new meaning for the HEW acronym: How to Encourage Waste.

The existence of the department was justified by the perceived inadequacy of the market economy to supply enough services with positive spillover effects. It also came to oversee what the political elite saw as a new social role of government---to provide a collective safety net for those of our distressed neighbors whom we refuse to help individually. Under President Carter, the HEW monstrosity was reorganized into ED (Department of Education) and HHS (Department of Health and Human Services).

In theory, HEW should have provided a more efficient use of society's resources in meeting certain needs. The Bush administration became a big benefactor of ED and HHS. The No Child Left Behind and the Medicare prescription drug plan were sold to the masses as acts of compassion. President Obama and his soldiers from the "grassroots" all the way to Congress believe that we should let the federal government take even more responsibility in healing our sick, educating our children, and feeding our hungry.

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But why is it so hard to sell the idea of socialized medicine to some people? What possibly could be wrong with mandatory public schooling from age zero? Don't we like free stuff? And if we value freedom as much as we claim, surely we should be supporting the political efforts to guarantee us the new freedom from necessity! The answer is simple: Some people consider incentives in addition to intentions. When we put aside all propaganda, the fact remains that bureaucratic growth depends on inefficiency and failure of previous programs as much as market growth depends on good stewardship.

Alex Tokarev
Alex Tokarev

Alex is the chair of the Department of Business at Morthland College in West Frankfort, Ill., and teaches at Northwood University in Midland, Mich. The native of communist Bulgaria fanatically supports the Bulgarian soccer team, Levski.


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