ABC News Press Release, 27 Jan 2001:
What happens when a skeptic visits the center of government? He finds out how bad the waste, incompetence, and abuse of power can be.
For years, ABC News reporter John Stossel was a consumer reporter, exposing businesses that ripped off consumers. In his latest hour-long special, he does a consumer report on government, exposing programs that squander money and rules that make no sense. Some government officials aren't eager to talk about the problems, as Stossel discovered when then-Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt walked out of an interview.
For 150 years, America's government guaranteed liberty - and little else. But over the past 60 years, under Republicans and Democrats, government has grown so sharply - that it costs the average American $10,000 per year in taxes to pay for it. Philosophy professor Tibor Machan tells Stossel that's not what the framers of the Constitution wanted: "The Founders tended to believe that government should be restricted. It should be limited to the function of securing our rights." Instead, government has taken on countless duties, from running subways to inspecting pickles.
Stossel looks at a typical St. Louis family and their tax burden - about one out of every three dollars they earn - and talks to tax expert Amity Shlaes, who notes that "Americans pay more in taxes than we do in food, clothing and shelter combined." Government can't even keep track of much of the money, as Stossel learns when he drops in on D.C. committee hearings and the General Accounting Office.
Much of what government does do, it does poorly, finds Stossel. The Interior Department spent billions to help Native Americans, but Indians are the poorest people in America. Billions more have been spent on centrally-planned public housing, but instead of safe homes, low-income families often end up with dilapidated buildings where elevators don't work and security is poor. Charities complain that government rules make it tougher to help people. Today "if Jesus Christ wanted to start Christianity, he wouldn't be able to do it," says Mimi Silbert, who runs a mutual aid network in San Francisco, "because there are too many regulations."
Despite government's failures, Stossel points out that it continually seeks more power, whether on a local scale-such as seizing homes under the auspices of urban renewal - or on an international scale, intervening militarily in over a hundred countries.
What's the alternative? Stossel finds private organizations taking over formerly government-run functions and doing the job better. Competition - sorely lacking in government monopolies - gives these private companies an incentive to guarantee such necessities as clean water, and flights that actually arrive on time. In Jersey City, NJ, for instance, Mayor Bret Schundler got so disgusted with high-cost, lousy-tasting water, he put the water contract out for bid. "If they blow it, we're going to give the contract to somebody else," Schundler tells ABC News.
"John Stossel Goes To Washington" concludes with Prof. Machan's comment: "Government was intended to have a few, clearly-defined functions such as running the courts and the military, and it would do it much better if it didn't do all this other stuff that it has gotten its nose into."
Deborah Colloton and Mark Golden are the producers of "John Stossel Goes to Washington." Martin Phillips is the senior producer.