Can government solve social problems

Government spending


This ones for you Wilson 😃

Out of a tense meeting grew a frantic effort aimed at rescuing not only the troubled insurance portal and President Obama’s credibility, but also the Democratic philosophy that an activist government can solve complex social problems.

The above is the first sentence of a November 30 NYT article. I found it very profound and a bit pathetic.

Pathetic in the sense that we never seem to learn our lessons. Government has its role of course. However, government solving complex social problems is in effect saying a few select people know what is best for the other three hundred million and how to make it all come about. That simply cannot be true.

Don’t take my word for it. Consider this sentence from the recent HHS report regarding fixing “The team is operating with private sector velocity and effectiveness.” Don’t we wish all of government could do that. Especially the effectiveness part.

By their very nature complex social problems require bottom up, inside out people motivated solutions, not laws forcing social change. Social problems are people problems created by the behavior of people, complex people.

Government perceives a problem of lack of home ownership and creates an economic disaster. Government perceives a problem with college costs and creates the incentive for ever higher tuition fees. Government perceives a women’s health problem and we get “free” birth control as the solution. Government perceives a problem with the environment and we get perverse incentives and subsidies. Government sees a problem with poverty and yet after decades of programs and untold billions of dollars, there is still poverty.

Yes, there are complex social problems but solving them requires fixing the causes, not the symptoms.


  1. yes…..”I am from the government and I am here to solve your problems”……I am sure you remember who said this. Of course government does not solve anything. If anything it creates and amplify s existing social problems. It is not the cure but rather the cause. And we can not( through legislation) fix all the social and economic disparities in our country.


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