H.L. Mencken said that “democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”
What we want, as revealed yesterday by our elected representatives, is to preserve and grow government spending at any cost. Well, perhaps not any cost. But certainly one specific cost: $20,000,000,000,000. That’s roughly what the U.S. national debt will be by the end of President Obama’s second term (double the figure when he took office). For context, 20 trillion seconds equal 633,774 years—three times as long as Homo sapiens has existed. That’s a lot of seconds… and a lot of dollars.
So what will we get for it? Well, as long as folks are still willing to lends us money we seem unlikely to ever be able to pay back, we’ll get to preserve federal government programs that we apparently consider sacrosanct.
In education, the most sacrosanct of these is surely Head Start, a 47-year-old pre-school program for low-income children meant to close the racial and socio-economic gaps in student achievement. So it’s interesting that on the Friday before Christmas, when many Americans including most of the media were otherwise occupied, the Department of Health and Human Services quietly uploaded a new study to its website. Well, not actually a new study. It had been completed months earlier and been given an official release date in October. But, you know how it is. It’s unseemly to release a massive, high quality, randomized study showing the failure of a signature federal education program on the eve of an election. So its release was deferred until “not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” In a nutshell: it says Head Start doesn’t work.
Perhaps the last great federal spending program before the debt bubble bursts upon us in a year or a decade should be the printing of 315 million T-shirts with the caption: “I bankrupted the United States of America, and all I got was this lousy….” Except, of course, that program probably wouldn’t work either.