Commentator John Stossel Insists, "No, Government Can't"

John Stossel objects to big government on moral grounds: If we hear "Yes we can," it means "government can't."


Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Patch readers are likely well acquainted with John Stossel, the 19-time Emmy Award-winner, a five-time honoree for excellence in consumer reporting by the National Press Club, and now the current host of a program for Fox Business Network.

In prior remarks made by Stossel at a Heritage Foundation event April 11, he told of leaving ABC News after 28 years because he "couldn't stand" being controlled by his bosses, who wanted him to do only puff pieces and nothing of journalistic quality.

In  2010, with ABC's viewer count down to 5 million, Stossel considered Fox News, recounting how he was not recruited by Fox Business, but instead asked Fox News chief Roger Ailes to hire him.

Besides Stossel's one-hour weekly Fox Business Network show, he also has a series of one-hour specials on Fox News and appears regularly on The O'Reilly Factor and other Fox News shows.

According to Stossel: “I was taught socialism, central planning at Princeton by my professors who said the government is going to fix poverty.  And it just took me years of reporting and watching government fail to see the folly of that.” 

As a promoter of free market principles, it was appropriate that The Heartland Institute should engage Stossel, who is presently on tour to promote his book, "No They Can't."    

What people don't realize is that Stossel took a 50 percent pay cut to go to a network that would give him the chance to be honest, and not a controlled journalist.

But before Stossel was introduced to the hundred plus guests, and prior to supper being served, Heartland Institute CEO Joe Bast presented welcoming remarks informing members and non-members what was in store for the institute in 2012.

The list of Heartland's participatory activities cited by Bast include: The CPAC Chicago Regional event at the Rosemont Convention Center on June 8; the Seventh International Global Warming Conference in Chicago from May 21-23; and the Annual Heartland Benefit at Navy Pier on Aug. 9 with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

New projects for The Heartland Institute include:

  • Development of a balanced curriculum on Climate Change for school-aged children.
  • "Operation Angry Badger" as a way to get faster access to drugs by going around the FDA.  Freetochoosemedicine.org
  • Dave Patton Internship Program to hire 10 college students (Dave Patton was the founder and first president of The Heartland Institute.)
  • Continuing work on the issues of Fracking and School Choice.

Stossel took command of the podium for the rest of the evening. He proceeded to entertain those present with his style of story-telling, combined with facts laced-with-humor, that so define his appealing and popular Fox TV personage.  

The tenor of Stossel's remarks dealt with what people instinctively imagine to be true. Instinct so often takes over when we are scared or want a solution by turning to government. Politicians say, "There ought to be a law. Government says, "Yes we can."

The following description by Stossel is on the back cover of his book, "No, They Can't," as an explanation of why he wrote the book:

"Consider your own political instincts. Do you routinely think that government ought to be in the business of promoting good things (maybe marriage or religious charities) and discouraging bad things (perhaps porn, pot-smoking, and violent video games)!

But if government is in the business of promoting what is good and suppressing the bad, that is a license for it to stick its nose into virtually every human activity.

Politicians -- and we voters -- can dream of guaranteed incomes, world peace, or green energy. But reality puts limits on our political fantasies. The mature response to cries of "Yes, we can"! should be "No, we can't!"

Not when "we" means government. Government cannot, and it shouldn't try! Saying "no" will not win you many cheers, but we should be realistic about what government cannot do."

Stossel was born in Chicago Heights and graduated from New Trier High School in Winnetka followed by Princeton University. He overcame a stuttering problem so he could become a reporter.

Incidents such as the quick demise of the Trabant car were noted by Stossel to explain how he came from being a liberal and a socialist in his early days to a free-market oriented classical liberal.

According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:  Classical liberalism' is the philosophy committed to the idea of limited government, constitutionalism, rule of law, due process, and liberty of individuals including freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and free markets.  The term was applied in retrospect to distinguish earlier 19th-century liberalism from the newer 'social liberalism.'

The Trabant was an East German car that was the result of central planning, yet it was the best East Germany could produce. There were waiting line in the Soviet Bloc for both the Trabant and the Hugo, but no longer after the Berlin Wall came down. Lesson learned: Government cannot compete with the free market in producing a car that people want at a price people can afford.

Stossel pointed out other areas where the free market system will do a much better job than government. Government will tell its citizens how they will save us and that they must do more, when more does not produce better results and further demands more from taxpayers.

After 9/11, the thought existed that government had to take over airport security resulting in the TSA being created. But has the TSA really kept us safer than before its creation? Both the shoe and the underwear bomber were stopped due to citizen response.

And what about private screeners? Why do they do better than those hired by the TSA? Might it be because the owners have a stake in their businesses. Private businesses even run contests and reward employees to see how fast a pipe bomb can be found in luggage and on how well they remember details.

In reference to the OSHA act of 1971, Stossel displayed a chart showing accidents in the workplace before the OSHA act was passed (The purpose of the Act was to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by authorizing enforcement of standards developed under the Act by encouraging and assisting state governments to improve and expand their own occupational safety and health programs and by providing for research, information, education and training in the field of occupational health and safety.).

Not surprising, the graph remained unchanged after OSHA was passe. People learned through experience, and not government dictates, to create safer work conditions.

Stossel further elaborated on why instinct falsely leads individuals to believe that central planning by the government is best in handling the big stuff, such as when parents need to be told what their children need to learn or when individuals are made to believe that they are not smart enough to take charge of their own health care.

Instinct also leads individuals to believe that both this nation and state are wealthy, that there is no need to cut back on benefits, which elicits protest such as: "Don't touch our Social Security or pension payment when reaching retirement age because we deserve to get our money back," Stossel said.

But are we entitled to get all of our money back when most retirees (especially public service workers) get far more back in retirement than they ever put in. Stossel described the absurdity of the Illinois pension system with its massive, unsustainable debt and the lack of will in Springfield by the party in control to advance reform.

Instinct further creates the assumption that wealth can be created by destroying it. "Cash for Clunkers" was use by Stossel as an example of the "The broken glass theory" (why destruction, and the money spent to recover destruction, is actually not a net-benefit to society). After the program ended, there were less used cars available for purchase as the so-called clunkers were destroyed, which resulted in raising the price of the used cars available for purchase for those with limited financial means.

In closing, Stossel related a study by Andrea Rich in which school kids were asked why America was a prosperous country and why it did so well? Answers given were because of natural resources and democracy.

Stossel then noted that India had both, yet India doesn't equal this nation's standing in the world.

Hong Kong was then brought into the equation as having advanced from a third world country to a first world country in only a span of 50 years.

How did this happen? When people are left alone, prosperity is created. The free market system will provide real wealth for a nation and its people.

Government might be a force, and we as a people do need some force, but most of the advances made for the good of society are created voluntarily through the private sector.

Considered unrealistic and counter-productive by Stossel:

1.  Why capitalism is vilified and hated, along with big business, as this is what supplies people with what they want: products to purchase and jobs to provide the means?

2.  Why If someone made a profit something must have been taken away from others?

Stossel objects to big government on moral grounds: If we hear "Yes we can," it means "government can't."

Stossel described government as something that jumps in front of the parade and then claims it is leading it.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Richard Allen Jackson May 29, 2012 at 06:00 AM
Dear John, This may be off topic, but I would LOVE to tell OBAMA to "GET LOST" and go back to the rock he slithered out from under! I would LOVE for him to contact me, and APOLOGIZE to me, and ALL THE BRAVE MEN & WOMEN he has put in harm's way! It is my PERSONAL belief that in order to command, you should have at LEAST volunteered! Not just sing and dance! PLUS, He's admitted to doing DRUGS! I would run for office, If someone would nominate me, NO DOUBT!! Sincerely, A REAL AMERICAN!!!!! FLY NAVY!!!!


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