VITAL SIGNSrnGOVERNMENTrnYour Tax Dollarsrnat Workrnby Philip JenkinsrnRumor lias it that the Brookings histitutionrnis a well-regarded think tankrnstaffed by highh’ educated experts, whosernopinions are treated with great respect byrntlie nation’s policymakers. Unfortunate-rn1-, these experts do not inhabit the samernspiral arm of the galax) as the rest of us. Irnbase this conclusion on a widely publicizedrnreport released b Brookings at thernend ot last car on “Goernment’s GreatestrnAchieements of the Past Half Centur}-.”rnLooking back at the last 50 years orrnso, most of VIS voild hae our own list ofrnthe greatest hits of the federal government,rnand there would be some patchesrnof laughter amidst the tears and woe (therndrug war, Vietnam, Waco —there is justrnso much to choose from). I seriouslyrndoubt, though, whether anvonc would,rnwith a straight face, begin such a retrospecHxcrnwith a line likernI,ooking back from the edge of arnnew millennium, it is difficult notrnto be proud of what the federal go’-rnernment has tried to achiexc thesernpast fift- ears. Name a significantrndomestic or foreign problem overrnthe past half centun.’ and die federalrngoN’ernment made some effort tornsoK e it. . . The proof is in the federalrnstatutes. All totaled, Congressrnpassed more than 500 major lawsrnbetween 1944 and 1999 to improerndie qualiU’ of life in the nation andrnworld.rnMost of us would probably choose a lessrntriumphalist approach, such as “True,rngoxernment did all this, but let’s forgivernand forget.” It’s “difficult not to feelrnproud” of federal achievements, eh? Justrnwatch me.rnhiterestingly, though, the BrookingsrnInstitution is not alone in its phantasmagoricrnuni’erse. Seeking confirmationrnof its views, die babbling Brooksters conductedrna surve’ of college educators fromrnthe American Historical Association andrnthe American PoliHeal Science .Association,rnasking them to rank the government’srnachievements since World WarrnII. A ven- large number of the professorsrnresponded, permitting the compilation ofrna list of federal “triumphs” (I’m not jokingrn—that’s the word used in the Brookingsrnpress releases). Heading the rosterrnwere: “Rebuild Europe after World Warrn11”; “Expand the right to vote”; “Promoternequal access to public accommodations”;rn”Reduce disease.” (The full reportrnis online at www.hrook.edulcommlrefonnwatchlnv02lrw2.rnhtm.)rnSo much is wrong with this sun’ey thatrnit’s difficult to know where to start denouncingrnit. What strikes me the most isrnthe mindset of the academics involved. Irnam a professor myself, and some of myrnbest friends are professors, so I realize thatrnsome of them are not the brightest starsrnon their respective Christmas trees. But Irnam still stunned to find so many of themrnaccepting uncritically the most extremernclaims of radical liberalism about modernrnAmerican history, in the face of sornmuch massive evidence to the contrary.rnThe worst thing about the Brookings surve-rnis that it demonstrates beyond challengernthe moral and political coloring ofrnthe American academy—and it is a preth’rnsorr.’ sight. To quote Paul Light, directorrnof the survey, “this sample offers anrnimportant glimpse of how future generationsrnwill judge the greatest achievementsrnof the twentieth century, if onlyrnbecause most of these respondents willrnbe doing the teaching.” (Mv God, he’srnprobabh right.)rnThe greatest problem with the survevrnis that the answers were predeterminedrnby the nahire of the questions. Respondentsrnwere offered a number of options asrnareas in which the federal governmentrnhad been actic, but were not allowed tornsay that tiiis field of endeavor might havernbeen wholly disastrous or counterproductive.rnImproing access to public accommodations,rnfor instance, may be arnworthy goal; but trying to achieve educationalrneqnalit) by means of busing virtuallyrndestroyed urban public educationrnacross the United States and gra’ely damagedrnopportunities for all races. Such results,rnhowever, are labeled mere b l i p s -rnjust spots on the sun —and ignored.rnOnce ordered by rank, the resulting listrnallows the Brooksters to state, in effect,rnthat this league table represents the judiciousrnviews of American scholars aboutrnthe wonders wrought by the federal government.rnThis picture involves sins of omissionrnas well as commission. Notably, it suggestsrnthat any kind of progress since thern1940’s has been the work not just of government,rnbut specifically the U.S. government.rnStates and cities do notrncount-nor does science, nor business.rnIf disease has been reduced, or waterrnquality improved, that has nothing to dornwith the workings of private corporations,rnnor of scientific discoveries; it is becausernthe L’.S.G. decided of its goodness that itsrnlowly subjects needed such boons, andrnlo, they descended. (Response: “Let usrngive thanks to the G, from whom all goodrnthings flow”). Interestingly, the biggestrnsingle federal effort to reduce disease remainsrnthe war on cancer originally declaredrnby President Nixon, and that hasrnbeen less than a scintillating success.rnAs to sins of omission, I can think of arnnumber of federal achievements that arernnot on the list and which should be highlighted,rnand I have no doubt that Chroniclesrnreaders could offer their own suggestions.rnIf, for instance, we are to focus onrnthe reconstruction of Europe —undoubtedlyrna key achievement—why not devoternequal time to the amazing reconstructionrnof Japan? This could be reckoned anrneven nobler work, since this country wasrnnot required to go through the inconveniencernof confronting its monstrouslyrnbloody wartime past, its record of rapernand massacre across eastern Asia. ThernU.S. government saw no need to removernall those experienced and ever-so-usefulrnmilitarists, war profiteers, and biologicalwarfarernexperts who contributed so muchrnto the new democratic nation.rnThe mention of Japan might recallrnother key federal achievements, such asrnthe decision to permit that nation’s industrialrndumping to cripple large sectionsrnof the American economy between thernI960’s and 80’s. Such a decision seemsrnincomprehensible, at least until we realizernhow many American politicians andrnbureaucrats were personally enriched b}’rnthe policy. The federal government hasrnbeen a productive cash cow, and it is onlyrnfair to stress this record of multibillion-rnAPRIL 2001/45rnrnrn