Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Problem with Government Programs

I was thinking today about all the things that our government is "trying" to do in the name of helping us and all the programs that the president proposed in his State of the Union address and something dawned on me...when our leaders are going to "get it?"

I know it may be because I teach Psychology, but when are we all going to realize that people don't just function in a vacuum. Human beings are driven by consequences (rewards and punishment). We all have an innate ability to quickly measure a situation and take the actions that will be in our own best least in the short run. So, we cannot just give things to people without it having consequences for those people and everyone else.

Why do we as a society constantly create situations that make people less productive and less happy? This is nothing new...I first saw it in the several unionized jobs that I held where it became clear that because no one could earn a higher pay rate than anyone else, people did the next best thing...they did the minimum amount of work to get by, thereby maximizing their own personal return on investment of their time. I saw it when I worked my way through college as a construction worker and I later saw it when I was a unionized public school teacher. Sure there were a few people who worked hard anyway, but they were the exception. The system just did not reward working harder, so most people won’t.

We see it in many government programs that encourage people to not work. Why should I look for a job when I am on unemployment? Especially when finding a job means I will lose “free” money? We see it in health insurance policies that give us the impression that we can go to the doctor for "free" so we end up going more often than we really need to, which in turn drives up health insurance costs for everyone. An example reported by a CBS station in Pennsylvania showed how a single mother could get over $80,000 in welfare benefits.

We see the entitlement attitude in the endless late night television advertisements by lawyers telling us that we am "entitled" to some sort of settlement for something someone else did to me. I personally see it when I have college students tell me they deserve an “A” in a course simply because they paid their tuition. Or, they deserve an “A” because they came to class. When challenged on this they tell me they always received “A’s” in high school for just showing up to class.

We see it in legislation like the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), in which our elected representatives voted to spend a trillion dollars on something that the Congressional Budget Office estimated will help 2 percent of the population. We see it in programs like Cash for Clunkers where the government (because of its wonderfully efficient systems) spent something like $24,000 on each clunker it took off the road! And we see it when government auditors estimate that over 40 percent of people getting free government cell phones probably don’t qualify for them. I am sure everyone can cite many more examples of programs with incentives in the wrong place.

So, the bottom line is...people do things because they either pay off, or appear to pay off for them personally. We are just wired that way. It is up to the people designing the system to understand that. Unfortunately our political leaders are primarily interested in doing what pays off for them. Once again it is all about self-interest.

No comments:

Post a Comment