Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Q: What’s to become of Even Start?

A: There is a big difference between a smaller Federal Government and smaller government.

My friend and ex-wife, Dorothy wrote me the other day informing me that the budget proposed by President George W. Bush’s and The Group in Power will eliminate Even Start, a federally funded family literacy program, a branch of which she directed in Sioux City and later Des Moines, Iowa. Even Start is pretty cool. The clients are mostly low-income mothers and their children. The mother’s learn how to read and write English better, as well as pick up the knowledge and skills required for a GED. The children get fundamental pre-school services. Theoretically, and in most cases practically, the adult clients enter the work force as employable members of society while the preschool clients show up in elementary school with the cognitive tools to be in elementary school, thus increasing the probability of not ending up in prison or chronically unemployed later in life.

Even Start is a good deal and a cost effective one too, when weighed against the alternatives.

Yet, according to Dorothy, Even Start is going away, which is too bad. Where does President George W. Bush’s and The Group in Power expect that the people who need Even Start to go for such services? The answer that comes to mind is….. “faith based community services”, which is not a bad thing I guess. I mean, churches, benevolent societies and political organizations have been in the social services business for years, e.g., parochial schools, The Police Athletic League, The Black Panthers, The Salvation Army, The League of Women Voters, a turkey at Thanksgiving from a ward boss… the list goes on and on.

I guess the issue for me is one of power. To my thinking power is like energy, it does not go away; it simply gets transferred. Even Start has power. People need and want what the program has to offer and are willing to adjust their behavior, to act in concert (show up, give and receive instruction, do homework, etc…) in order to be part of the organization and to receive its benefits. (Arendt: "...groups come to power.")

Even Start may go away in the Fed, but it will show up elsewhere, in a church maybe. And as such, in the transfer of that funded service to a private provider, the power of the provider will be increased. No problem, I guess. But the last time I remember a religious group having a lot of governmental power, we got things like the Crusades (pick your side, pick your faith based organization), the Inquisition along with its sequels, and the Salem Witch Burnings.

OK, let's not get in a tizzy about faith based service providers; churches really are in the Do Good business. Let's put Even Start under the jurisdiction of private, community based service providers, which is pretty much the way things are now-- private, non-profit, contractors controlled by virtue of federal funding. But, let's take away the "federal control" and "non-profit" parts. Well, give private organizations political power and you get….. uh, governments.

Oh furgetaboutit, let's just do away with publicly supported social services completely and let everybody fend for themselves... hey wait a minute, isn't that the proposed revamping of Social Security?

OK, let's take a really big leap. If everything becomes private and there is no public, save maybe a military in which those that do the actual killing get a US Government paycheck and those who drive and feed those who will do the killing are private contractors, well then, who and what really is the government? (Real life note: When I worked for Gateway, when it was Gateway 2000, big, bad Gateway 2000, the company’s security department was bigger and better equipped than the entire police force of North Sioux City, SD, the town in which the company headquarters was located. In most respects Gateway caught its own criminals and just "handed them over".)

If I am sound confused and a bit disjointed, it’s because I am. I like the notions of the civic space, the civilian and civilization. I like the idea of civilization based on a literate culture. Even Napoleon understood the national value of a population educated in the fundamentals of language. And yet it seems as if the only thing that the current Fed wants to fund directly are those activities that for most part seem so be concerned with blowing up people and things.

That and doing God’s work.

I wish that we got on to the next step in being a civilized culture. However, there is a credible argument to be made that promoting civilization is not the role of government. Or maybe we have; maybe the Fed's foreign policy of promoting freedom in the Middle East is about promoting civilization. But no matter what, don’t think for a minute that government will ever get smaller. It will just get broader.

PS: Corporate governance is not a new notion. I guess in the future we'll all just be shareholders of something or another.


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