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Jewish World Review Jan. 24, 2003 / 21 Shevat, 5763

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Consumer Reports


'Original' ideas follow New Deal philosophy


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Atlantic Monthly's cover package, "The Real State of the Union," is not completely worthless.

It's true the country's smartest magazine has dumbly turned about 50 pages over to a drippy liberal think tank to produce a package of 15 often annoying essays about how to fix what ails America.

It's also true that most of the "original" ideas the policy wonks at the think tank, New America Foundation, push are variations of the same old top-down, expert-directed, government-forced-and-paid-for economic schemes and social-engineering projects:

  • To help harried parents, let's mandate paid medical and family leave for all employees!!! And "free" government-paid subsidies for quality (i.e., expensive) child care!!!

  • To repopulate and re-energize our depopulated and aging Heartland, let's have a federal program to help poor immigrants and working-class folks move from Los Angeles and New York, where it's overcrowded, to Nebraska and Iowa!!!

  • To close the widening wage gap between rich and poor that so deeply bothers penthouse progressives, let's give the 4 million babies born in America each year a $6,000 endowment that would be invested in a safe stock portfolio!!!

    Not all of the essays or ideas they put forth are this goofy. One is amazingly stupid.

    Shannon Brownlee's essay on how to reform health care, "The Overtreated American," points out that many people especially old people in places like Florida where lots of doctors have gathered in dense mobs to prey on them get excess care that is costly but has no health benefit.

    That makes perfect sense. Yet she never mentions the main reasons the health care market is such an inefficient mess too much government interference and a third-party payment system that encourages patients to demand "free" Cadillac health care when all they need is Chevy Cavalier care or no care at all.

    Other essays are better informed. Margaret Talbot warns that we need to rebuild our parole and rehabilitation systems so that the hordes of prisoners we've been locking away will be less anti-social when they get out.

    And James Pinkerton, a conservative columnist for Newsday, suggests a way to save public education and make both Democrats and Republicans happy (or mad).

    To equalize expenditures and end the need for local property taxes to pay for education, he says, every child in America should get $7,000 in the form of a voucher than could be spent at any kind of school or for home-schooling.

    Pinkerton's "federal school choice" idea is a think-tanker's pipe dream. But it's not as market-unfriendly as some of the others offered in what, unfortunately, appears to be just the first of Atlantic's co-productions with the New America Foundation.

    Atlantic's editors might think they're being neutral by pushing neither Republican nor Democrat policies. But the general tilt of their narrow package is neo-New Deal that government can and ought to right all life's inequalities and solve all life's problems.

    If they want to broaden the discussion, or merely terrify their readers with truly radical ideas, next time they should turn some of their pages over to the Cato Institute, a free-market think tank that sees government as the cause of many of our problems, not the solution.

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    JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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    © 2002, Bill Steigerwald