Thursday, August 16 , 2018, 12:33 am | Fair 70º


Harris Sherline: The Record Speaks for Itself

History highlights fiscal failures in government's management of social programs

Poet/philosopher George Santayana is credited with saying: “Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.”

Harris Sherline
Harris Sherline

Many, perhaps most, people are disinterested and bored by history and consider it a waste of time. Yet, sports enthusiasts devote hours of their time and gray matter to memorizing the records of their favorite football, basketball, hockey, soccer and baseball players and teams. Baseball, for example, is a game in which statistics are meticulously maintained, compared and quoted. But talk about history in human events, and they couldn’t be less interested.

However, history does repeat itself, and we would do well to pay attention to the mistakes of the past in order to avoid making them again — or at least try. Case in point: President Barack Obama’s health-care bill passed earlier this year by Congress. In the run-up to the congressional vote, the issue was hotly debated, and both sides trotted out statistics and projections to buttress their arguments, both pro and con.

Perhaps the most compelling argument against Obama’s health-care bill was the federal government’s own record in managing the various major social programs that have been adopted in the past. The following summary (circulated on the Internet) highlights the gap between government promises and delivery:

» “The U.S. Postal Service was established in 1775. The government has had 234 years to get it right, and it is broke.

» “Social Security was established in 1935. The government has had 74 years to get it right, and it is broke.

» “Fannie Mae was established in 1938. The government has had 71 years to get it right, and it is broke.

» “War on Poverty started in 1964. The government has had 45 years to get it right; $1 trillion of our money is confiscated each year and transferred to ‘the poor,’ and they only want more.

» “Medicare and Medicaid were established in 1965. The government has had 44 years to get them right, and they are broke.

» “Freddie Mac was established in 1970. The government has had 39 years to get it right, and it is broke.

» “The Energy Department was created in 1977 to lessen our dependence on foreign oil. It has ballooned to 16,000 employees with a budget of $24 billion a year, and we import more oil than ever before. The government has had 32 years to get it right, and it is an abysmal failure.”

Every “government service” that has ever been shoved down our throats has failed. Three additional examples illustrate the point:

» The postal service lost $3.8 trillion in the 2009-10 fiscal year.

» Social Security and Medicare have a combined unfunded liability (deficit) of $107 trillion. That’s seven times the size of the entire U.S. economy and 10 times the amount of the nation’s outstanding national debt.

» Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation has pointed out that “welfare spending today is 13 times greater than it was ... (when the War on Poverty was initiated). Means-tested welfare spending was 1.2 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in 1964; by 2008, it had reached 5 percent of GDP.”

And people want us to believe the government can be trusted to run the nation’s health-care system.

It’s not about the need for good health care; it’s about trusting the government to run it. No government program ever operates on or under budget, and none ever will.

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who has lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog,

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