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Friday, April 9, 2010

Government and Private Sectors Need Each Other

Recently, I read an opinion letter in my local newspaper that suggested one might think that Washington has given up on America.  The author alleged that government spending cannot fix our economic woes, only private enterprise, private investment and private industry jobs can fix the recession. No more tax and spend;  he opined, “ If a measure increases the government’s budget, vote it down.” A-a-ah, simplicity itself!
Does this mean we should oppose all measures that increase government jobs -- like those of military personnel, police and firemen, and how about all those Doctors and Nurses in the VA system, post office workers, or border guards?  Has the author forgotten that governments, from the federal to the local level, are major employers, and without their support, we would be in dire straits, because sometimes government must take the lead to solve national problems or to provide extensive services?
This problem of recovery is not that simple, unfortunately.  First of all, government can definitely help to create a supportive environment for the creation of private enterprise, investment and new jobs.  In my opinion, that is what has happened through the auspices of President Obama and supportive Democrats (and a few Republicans) in Congress who have created an environment in which small businesses and larger enterprises have the opportunity to create a lasting recovery.  And guess what?  To a great extent, recovery is already evident.   Unfortunately, many private sector banks aren’t cooperating in this recovery effort by increased lending, and thus the private sector is not hiring as it should.  In this case,  government is less of a problem than certain avaricious big banks! 
Secondly, some of the most effective programs and measures are those that combine the resources of government and the private sector.  For example, many government programs that utilize and encourage volunteerism in various areas of need -- like Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Vista, Older American Programs, Teacher Corps, Health Corps, and more -- have proven beyond a doubt that both government funding and private enterprise can cooperate to tackle problems of health, jobs, education, special needs of children--all at minimal expense for the U.S. Treasury. 
Third, putting all responsibility in the hands of private enterprise and private industry makes the same mistake as those who believe that government can solve all our problems alone.  Neither sector has all the answers; neither sector has enough resources on its own; neither sector can be fully trusted to act in a way that serves all the people who need service or help.  Simply saying that private enterprise will solve our problems is to forget that the private sector has another overriding interest: the profit motive.  Corporations like Enron, Halliburton and Toyota,  some banks and investment firms,  health insurers like Anthem Blue Cross in California do not necessarily have consumers’ interests at heart, and will not invest or initiate anything unless it pays off for them.  For instance, some have no compunction about taking tax-break or recovery money and raising rates, paying outrageous bonuses, hiring part-time workers with no health benefits, or making inferior products in order to save money and make more profit. 
We don’t need any more simplistic views of government and private enterprise.  We don’t need any more banal slogans and labeling that push simplicity into simplistic ideas.  We do need realistic and effective ways to assure that government and private enterprise work together for the benefit of our people and our society, and to make sure that both sectors are strongly challenged to initiate effective and efficient ways to solve problems and to provide services without overburdening our taxpayers and consumers.