Freedom From Want

Photo at Lanier Elementary School, Tulsa, ID’d by Gini Fox.

As the leader of a nation on the verge of entering World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt articulated a vision of what our human lives together on this planet should include.

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.”—Franklin D. Roosevelt, excerpted from the State of the Union Address to the Congress, January 6, 1941

I devote this blog site primarily to pointing out the witting and unwitting inaccuracies, half-truths and deceptions perpetrated by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and their partner Limited Thinkers at the 1889 Institute, being my effort to help elevate the public dialog about public policy matters that affect Oklahoma—my state of birth and residence.  I suspect the limited thinkers and I have many common thoughts about the first, second and fourth freedoms outlined by President Roosevelt.  It is mostly about the third freedom, Freedom From Want, that we differ.

This difference, and the penchant the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs has for using thinly veiled misleading graphics to drive home their predetermined conclusion, “government bad, private business good”, is illustrated by a recent post “Oklahoma State Budget Crisis?  I Should Say So” by “research fellows” J. Scott Moody and Wendy Warcholik.  This post in the final days of Oklahoma’s legislative session identified the real budget crisis not as the lack of funding for basic state services or as the need to raise teacher pay to head off the loss of our best and brightest to surrounding states, but rather they say our budget crisis is that government spending in Oklahoma is too large.  They recommend a hiring and pay freeze on teachers, local police and fire departments, and all the other bad state and local government workers in Oklahoma.  They also recommend eliminating the state income tax with no suggestion of how to replace the lost revenue.

Even sillier are their graphs they believe support their positions.  Here’s the first that compares the change in the index for “state and local government worker compensation” since the grand old year when all was right with the world, 1929, to the index for private sector income over the same period.

While they don’t say it, the way they present the graph one might think that state and local workers in Oklahoma have more total income than the private sector.  Of course that is not true and not what they say; rather their point is that state and local government worker compensation, the total, not average income, has grown much faster over the past century than has total income for the private sector.  They make no effort to explain why that might be so, apparently believing their readers will accept it as further evidence that “government is bad”.

Here’s their second graph, which compares the same, though greatly flattened by the revised scaling, private sector income data to “personal current transfer receipts” which they have the fleeting integrity to acknowledge “mostly consists of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and welfare”.


It’s so shocking and we see how those “welfare queens” are squeezing out our blessed private sector (I am truly grateful for our private sector—love my car, my house, my food, my heat, my tennis balls, etc.).

Well I made a graph also.  It’s a comparison of the physical growth index between two humans, J and G, from 2004 to 2017.

Above J is blue line; G is red line.

Of course here I think we should be concerned with the physical well-being of J and G, that we want both to be healthy and thriving.  But look at the difference, clearly J is thriving and healthy while G is not.  And that would most certainly be a valid conclusion IF J and G are the same age.  But they are not; J is my healthy 12-year-old grandson who was born in 2004 and G is me, a healthy Geezer (who defeated J in tennis, before he defeated me).  Without that background the graph really doesn’t tell us much except that children grow and adults do not.

So what’s the background for the two graphs above from the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs?  I’ve asked for their specific data sources which might reveal more silliness but haven’t heard back.  Here’s my somewhat informed thoughts about graph 1.  The largest, by far, component of state and local government worker compensation is K-12 education workers, i.e. teachers, teacher assistants, school bus drivers, etc. (notice how I leave out “administrators” which the OCPA would lead off with—games we play).  Since 1929 high school graduation rates have risen significantly, our country had to ramp up K-12 hiring to educate the post war baby boom generation beginning in the early 1950s, the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1975 increased the need for teachers and other school personnel, and the expansion of early childhood education opportunities over the last twenty years has done the same.  These are just some of the factors that would explain rapid employment growth among state and local government workers.  I think you can also throw in the rapid expansion of post high school education, which likely has been a major driver of our nation’s increase in private sector income, particularly our system of state supported universities and career tech centers.  Yet Moody and Warcholik mention none of this because, I suspect, it would distract from their preconceived, and paid for, conclusion that “government is bad.”

Graph number 2 gets us back to the third of Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms”—the freedom from want.  Just as local education workers dominate the state and local worker compensation data in their first graph, programs for the elderly—Social Security, Medicare and two-thirds of Medicaid—dominate the “personal current transfer receipts”.  These politically popular social programs were each instituted in response to the high rate of poverty among our nation’s older population as aging persons’ health failed and ability to work ended.  Here’s a graph and a paper, Social Security and Poverty, that support both the fact of high poverty rates before these programs came about, and their success in greatly reducing poverty among us geezers.

You can see now that all the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs second graph above really shows is the successful implementation of these programs in the years following 1940 with the “First monthly benefit check issued to Ida May Fuller for $22.54”.  For millions of Americans, including those for whom President Roosevelt was their Commander in Chief, these programs have helped realize his vision of Freedom from Want.  But when Limited Thinkers Moody and Warcholik exercise their Freedom of Speech they conveniently leave out that part, not I suspect because they don’t know any better, but rather because their individual freedom from want depends on continually pushing their benefactors’ message that “government is bad.”

There are significant long term financial challenges to these programs for the elderly, and “think tanks” like the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and the 1889 Institute could play a helpful role in building political consensus about how to reform them.  However, doing so means “touching the third rail of American politics” and that’s probably not what many of their Geezer and near-geezer benefactors want to hear about.

As always lunch on me for the first to ID the photo location.

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