"Don't you think -- because of that program -- society benefits?" an actor friend of mine asked me recently. She referred to a taxpayer-provided health care program that she "turned to" during one of the many "down periods" during her career.
"Who told you to go into acting?" I said. "Some careers -- whether an actor, a baseball player or a ski bum -- are high-risk and low-reward. Why should taxpayers support your career choice?"
"But didn't you get scholarships and grants to continue your education past high school?" she asked.
"Yes," I responded, "because, unfortunately, government got into the business of funding students to go to college. I would have preferred to have gone to a bank and applied for money."
"Why would it be better to go to a bank?"
"Well," I said, "taxpayers would not subsidize my college choice and major. Secondly, a lender would likely require a major in something that would lead to a job so that the lender gets repaid. We, therefore, would produce fewer art history, English lit and drama majors. Or students might pursue double majors, so that if the 'dream' career fails to materialize, there is a viable alternative."
I showed her a recent sympathetic article in a major newspaper about the lives and struggle of several New York actors. They, for the most part, happily pursued their high-risk careers while using wit and creativity to survive in a high-cost city. The actors' ages ranged from 34 to 67. In two cases, after the actors' plays ended, they resorted to unemployment compensation. This is actually a government program that pays out-of-work people. Government requires employers to pay an unemployment tax, an inefficient system that discourages people from looking for work. Employers, as with all taxes, pass along the expense by raising prices charged to their consumers. So in the end we, the taxpayer, pay.
In another case an actor obtained, at long last, a government-subsidized apartment for $700 a month. New York, which once had a rich and varied supply of apartments, began rent control during WWII. While this benefits those tenants lucky enough or connected enough to land an apartment, the policy reduces the available supply of apartments and prevents landlords from getting fair market value from their investment.
Question: Should taxpayers, through government programs and policies, support the choices of other people?
Take health care. On the presidential campaign trail, candidates on both sides of the aisle talk of the nation's "health care crisis" and offer varying schemes to use taxpayer money to "solve" the problem of those without health care insurance.