Government Does Nothing Well?

Last night at dinner, a friend of mine repeated to me an often-heard challenge to name something … anything … that the government does well. This line came during a discussion of health care reform in the US. I let the challenge pass at the time, but since then I have thought more about it, and I decided that there are plenty of things that the government does as well as or better than anyone else. Here are two quick ones:

  1. Education. The couple I dined with are products of public education, all of the way from first grade through Master’s degree, and they got as good an education as they could have from any source, public or private.
  2. Healthcare. Yes, healthcare.  …especially healthcare for people who cannot afford any other source, including the elderly, veterans, and children, and the indigent. The private system does not provide any services at all for people who cannot afford to pay; the government and charitable organizations are the only ones who step up to provide essential services for those without money or insurance. Left to the private service providers and insurers, many who need medical assistance would receive nothing at all.

It is a separate argument whether or not we should provide these services to people (though I cannot image who would think our nation better off if we let people stay sick and uneducated). But it is demonstrably wrong to say that government does not do these two jobs well – even if there is room for improvement.

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