What good people want to be when they grow up


When one’s vocabulary shrinks to one word––“No!”––the mind trains the body to perform sick tricks. While sitting on their hands the anti-government slugs have taught themselves to point a finger of blame all around. This finger has yet to develop the flexibility enabling it to turn itself around.

There’s more good news for them to complain about. College students prefer to work in government. In a survey of recent college grads, conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, students expecting to graduate with B.A. degrees by the end of 2013 chose government work as their top choice, with human services, education, and social services their next highest preferences. Far below in their rankings were careers in finance, retail trade, computer and electronic manufacturing, other manufacturing, and oil and gas extraction.

We told you so, is what the nay-saying fickle finger must be telling itself. Government is bad, and this generation of college students has turned out bad because of it. Their schools and teachers are also bad, because when children go to schools where cooperation and self-esteem are taught they want to make a career out of what they’ve learned. A generation of young people who care so deeply about government, human services, education, and social services that they actually want to get paid for doing things like that must be suffering from the morally corrosive influence of ObamaCare. Why, these anti-Darwin social Darwinists must be asking themselves, can’t everyone be like us, busy devising new ways to cut government, human services, education, and social services? How can so many students get college degrees without believing that making a lot of money enriches lives? Why do they put so little faith in oil and gas extraction? Don’t they believe in futures?

In a time when corporate profits are at historic high levels and income tax rates at historic lows, the finger keeps demanding that the government create more jobs. Meanwhile, as the rich get absurdly richer the middle class shrinks and more and more people go without the human services, education, and social services government tries to provide. If there’s a vast market for these services, there’s also a vast private sector failing to address market needs.

It would be easy to conclude that the current generation of college grads has bought into the cynicism driving a lot of noisy public discourse today. While begging for more tax breaks and government perks the fickle finger points at the grads and accuses them of wanting to freeload on the government gravy train.

Could it be that college grads are hoping to find work that addresses serious needs? It’s apparent that helping the needy is good for individuals and communities, and that new B.A. grads are willing enough suppliers. “The motivation to work in the public sector stems from a desire to help others,” says Melissa Emerson, who serves on the American Society for Public Administration’s national council. It’s obvious that many governmental and educational programs do a lot to help others, and that the finger-pointers would rather just sit and complain while spending millions on politicians paid to complain that government doesn’t work.

Whining about Big Government has some merits, especially when directed at waste, inefficiencies and the pork barrel projects, most of which the anti-government politicians vote for. Even the sincerity of their attacks on government surveillance would be convincing if they were accompanied by complaints about how major corporations, quietly run by anti-government heads, monitor and intrude on our disappearing privacies. Then they’d be right about one thing: Privacy loss contrived in the name of increased profits cannot compare to privacy loss resulting from attempts to thwart terrorism. Mean-spirited opposition to the Affordable Care Act has usefully zeroed in on its weaknesses. The attacks on ObamaCare, however, resemble their attacks on the weak and vulnerable the program is hoping to help. What do fickle finger-pointers offer as an alternative to 23 million uninsured Americans, most of them in poverty or low-wage jobs, other than private policies they can’t afford, emergency room care nobody can afford, and pretty words about how hard everyone else should work to become like them? They offer zero.

The greatest danger of these anti-government attacks is that they act as a slow erosive poison that gets deeply under the national skin into the very heart of who we are as a people. They destroy faith in the value of participating in government. The finger pointers want some types of people to drop out of government participation, so they can have government to themselves. They want the parts of the government they don’t control to fail.

Government fails when individuals lose control of their lives and when communities fail to respond to the needy. The failures of neighborhoods, schools, the underpaid and unemployed, and entire cities like Detroit should set off loud alarms. Their troubles are symptoms of failing states. Some of the most expensive Big Government projects funded by Americans are military adventures directed at failed states. When faith in good government dissipates, law and order fall apart. Greed, corruption, criminal cults, militias, and violence then rule. We should be wary, as Americans, of what we are doing to ourselves in the name of freedom. All but a very few will not enjoy the free-for-alls that ensue when government fails.

I’m heartened by the faith, good sense and commitment of the majority of our new college grads. Maybe not all government is bad, and some forms of government––those that create community by addressing real needs––have lasting impact. We should be grateful that the majority of the graduating class of 2013 still takes seriously what a lot of finger-pointing nay-sayers apparently no longer do: The words of a departed Republican intellectual, Abe Lincoln, spoken more than a century and half ago when he expressed his hope that government of, by, and for the people would not perish from the earth.