Keep in mind government’s good works

This past week I flew out to visit my 94-year-old dad in Vermont. We drove around a large part of the state, taking in the Green Mountains, the old towns chartered before the revolution, the pastures and forests and hills… Then I flew to Minneapolis and drove back to Seattle in a two-day, 1,700-mile marathon with my son.

The entire trip was pretty safe and seamless, thanks, in large part, to the federal government. Every time you fly, you are dependent on the federal air traffic control system. You don’t think twice about being up at 35,000 feet, because you don’t have to, as your airplane has been licensed and inspected through the Federal Aviation Administration. You are safe from terror attacks, thanks to the Transportation Security Administration. We may grumble about waiting, and taking our shoes off, and missed connections, but really, flying coast to coast in five and a half hours?!

Fifty years ago the Interstate Highway system didn’t exist. It took the leadership of President Dwight Eisenhower (a Republican, by the way), to get the ball rolling. Now our country is crisscrossed with 47,000 miles of these high speed highways, thanks to the federal government. The cost was a little under $500 billion. We could never have built highways, or the FAA, if Congress had sequestered the money. And we’re crazy to think we can keep those systems running without funds.

Driving across Interstate 94, we wondered how far we had to go to Bozeman. So we looked that up on our cell phones. We think of cell phones as being the domain of Apple, Nokia, Samsung. But how do these work with global positioning? Courtesy of the federal government. Another initiative launched under President Eisenhower was the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA. DARPA developed the global positioning satellite system. GPS is maintained by the United States government and is freely accessible to anyone.

Vermont, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington … all across this country I got the sense that we are recovering from the great recession. It may be slow, but we are going in the right direction. Part of what enabled us to stop the economic freefall was the federal stimulus in 2009, 2010, and 2011. That stimulus focused on infrastructure for the future and created jobs for the present. Money went to re-paving and re-building interstate roads, including I-94 in Montana. So we got a two-fer. People got back to work and their work benefited transportation for the next decade.

Unemployment insurance wasn’t around until the New Deal. Now it is a key cog for economic stability. Without it, tens of millions of households would have lost all income in the great recession. Their purchases in the local economy would have tailed off, creating a spiraling-down effect that would have benefited no one.

The minimum wage was another New Deal legacy. When workers are unemployed, they have no bargaining power. So they are easy to take advantage of, and employers can hog more of the money coming in, instead of sharing it with their employees. At least the minimum wage puts a floor on that behavior, again enabling employees to maintain some purchasing power. Our minimum wage in Washington state is higher than the federal minimum wage and geared to inflation, thanks to the people voting for a minimum wage initiative in 1998. Without it, low-wage workers would be toast.

Before the New Deal, when you got old, you got poor. With Social Security, when you get old, you maintain some economic security and a decent quality of life. You are insulated from the economic rollercoaster. So when the recession hit in 2008, my dad still got his Social Security check, month in and month out. But if you had a 401K retirement account, you might have seen it drop down to a 201K account. Social Security provided the stability to weather the recession.

We tend to whine about our government, looking at only the faults and not the benefits. But that attitude ends up reinforcing attacks on the very programs we value. Do we really want to cut Social Security benefits? How about cutting 57,000 kids off of Head Start, thanks to sequestration? Instead let’s celebrate our government this Labor Day. And then get to work rebuilding and refunding public services. That’s what government in our democracy is.

John Burbank is the Executive Director of the Economic Opportunity Institute (www.eoionline.org). He can be reached at john@eoionline.org

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Opinion

The vessel Tonga Chief, a 10-year-old Singaporean container ship, is moored at the Port of Everett Seaport in November, 2023, in Everett. (Ryan Berry / The Herald file photo)
Editorial: Leave port tax issue for campaign, not the ballot

Including “taxing district” on ballot issue to expand the Port of Everett’s boundaries is prejudicial.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Wednesday, May 22

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Burke: Torrent of lies doing what’s intended; wearing us down

When media outlets stop bothering to check the facts that leaves it to us to question the falsehoods.

Drivers could have helped limit mess from I-5 shutdown

While I was not involved in the I-5 northbound traffic backup on… Continue reading

Everett School District should allow graduates to wear regalia

My name is Lanie Thompson, and I am a current senior at… Continue reading

Making college affordable key to our future

The cost of attending college is prohibitively expensive. This barrier to entry… Continue reading

Snohomish County Councilmembers Nate Nehring, left, and Jared Mead, speaking, take turns moderating a panel including Tulip Tribes Chairwoman Teri Gobin, Stanwood Mayor Sid Roberts and Lynnwood Mayor Christine Frizzell during the Building Bridges Summit on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, at Western Washington University Everett in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Editorial: Candidates, voters have campaign promises to make

Two county officials’ efforts to improve political discourse skills are expanding to youths and adults.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks to a reporter as his 2024 gubernatorial campaign launch event gets underway in Seattle, on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. ( Jerry Cornfield/Washington State Standard)
Editorial: Recruiting two Bob Fergusons isn’t election integrity

A GOP activist paid the filing fee for two gubernatorial candidates who share the attorney general’s name.

Foster parent abstract concept vector illustration. Foster care, father in adoption, happy interracial family, having fun, together at home, childless couple, adopted child abstract metaphor.
Editorial: State must return foster youths’ federal benefits

States, including Washington, have used those benefits, rather than hold them until adulthood.

Making adjustments to keep Social Security solvent represents only one of the issues confronting Congress. It could also correct outdated aspects of a program that serves nearly 90 percent of Americans over 65. (Stephen Savage/The New York Times) -- NO SALES; FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY WITH NYT STORY SLUGGED SCI SOCIAL SECURITY BY PAULA SPAN FOR NOV. 26, 2018. ALL OTHER USE PROHIBITED.
Editorial: Social Security’s good news? Bad news delayed a bit

Congress has a little additional time to make sure Social Security is solvent. It shouldn’t waste it.

Kristof: If slowing Gaza aid isn’t criminal, it’s unconscionable

The allegations against Israel’s Netanyahu center on Israel’s throttling of aid into a starving Gaza.

Editorial cartoons for Tuesday, May 21

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.