Governor Romer says he wants to make Colorado the best place to raise a child. According to a January 12 Rocky Mountain News story, he believes that more support for new parents, universal access to health care for young children, family-friendly workplaces, more effective support systems for teen parents and quality child care will achieve this utopia. In other words, we can help kids by expanding the nanny state. It will look after children when they are awake, take care of them when they are sick, tell their parents how to raise them and force employers to put family considerations ahead of business ones.
Some adults may well believe that shifting parental obligations to the nanny state will make Colorado the best place to raise a child. What parent hasn#39;t occasionally wished for someone else to discharge his duties But the history of government activity in this area is a sorry one; past experience suggests that Governor Romer#39;s proposals are more likely to harm children than help them.
Activists intent on remodeling Minnesota#39;s health care system began by passing a 1987 law requiring the state to provide basic health care for children under 8. The selling point was providing children with access to health care even though almost all of them already had it. The program expanded with the usual bureaucratic logic and by 1994 state government controlled all aspects of health care. As Luanne Nyberg, the architect of the takeover put it, Once you start toward universal [coverage], politically you#39;ve gotta go the whole direction. The resulting system was similar to ColoradoCare, Governor Romer#39;s blueprint for socialized medicine in Colorado. Price controls were instituted, people were herded onto HMOs, costs ballooned from $1.3 million to $1 billion, and the state health commissioner ended up controlling everything from the price of vaccinations to a physician#39;s selection of treatments and forced doctors to provide sub-standard care.
Governor Romer#39;s effective support systems for teen parents are also likely to be expensive failures. Douglas J. Besharov and Karen N. Gardiner of the American Enterprise Institute examined a variety of such programs in the Winter issue of The Public Interest. They found that teen parent support programs with budgets as high as $50,000 a family had no discernible effect on the quality of a child#39;s upbringing.
Why is the Governor proposing the same old thing Such programs help adults. They provide public sector jobs and they help assuage the guilt of people who feel that something must be done whether or not it actually helps. The kids don#39;t count when higher taxes strain family budgets and put their parents out of jobs. They are generally unsuitable vehicles for displays of conspicuous compassion.
Unless, of course, they are potential clients for government day care, they ultimate convenience for adults who work. By taxing people who don#39;t use public day care to subsidize those who do, the government subsidizes something that may harm kids. Studies suggest that even good day care is a second best solution for many children, and some experts now believe that the sheer quantity of time adults spend talking to infants and toddlers is a crucial factor in their cognitive development. Only a minuscule number of day care centers can hope to match the quality of attention provided by even a run-of-the-mill parent. People who think that more government would help should take a look at the public schools.
What could Governor Romer do to help children He could promote initiatives designed to improve their chances of growing up in a household with two self-supporting parents. This might mean making divorce more difficult and adoption easier. It might mean modifying state participation in federal programs like SSI and AFDC. These programs make fathers unimportant as providers and subsidize adult behaviors that harm children. Some parents encourage kids to fail exams and misbehave in school in order to qualify for SSI checks. And with the Colorado welfare program paying the equivalent of a $10.05 an hour job for a mother with two children, no wonder unmarried teenage girls bored by school get pregnant rather than work for minimum wage.
A growing economy with a variety of entry level jobs, a good education, and law abiding citizens would do far more to help kids than Governor Romer#39;s new regiments of social-engineering bureaucrats. And history shows that these are things that well-run governments can do. Entry level jobs are the product of minimal government, a sensible tort system, and employers free to hire and fire without penalty. Private schools have shown they can provide a good education. Recent experiences in several cities suggests that even crime can be contained when officials enforce sensible laws and punish offenders. Government can#39;t raise kids, but if it sticks to its knitting and does a few things well it certainly can give them a better environment in which to grow.
Linda Gorman is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a think-tank in Golden, Colorado.
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