When the Founding Fathers established the Constitution of the United States of America "to promote the general welfare," it is safe to say they could never have envisioned Hillary Clinton's latest welfare-promoting gimmick.
This week, the senator from New York unveiled the "Calling for 2-1-1 Act of 2003." The legislation, co-sponsored by Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (shame on you, Kay!) would provide $200 million to establish a nationwide community help line, including almost $4 million for Clinton's "home" state.
The federalized phone service would help callers find the "essential services they need -- from information on child care to elder care, job training, schools, volunteer opportunities, housing, and countless other community needs. . . . Someone could call and say, 'I need child care' or 'I need job training' or 'I need affordable housing,' and we could direct them to not-for-profit agencies that can address the problem."
There are already 2-1-1 call centers operational in 21 states, staffed by private volunteers and funded by local and state governments, corporate sponsors and the United Way (which pioneered the idea in 1997).
There's also the old-fashioned telephone book.
Not to mention the community bulletin boards at every local library, supermarket and church.
Oh, and then there's the Internet that Hillary's old friend Al Gore invented, where countless Web sites such as www.govbenefits.gov "provide improved, personalized access to government assistance programs" for everyone from farmers to cops, students to veterans, victims of disaster, violence, abuse or crime, members of Alaskan Native villages, and citizens of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia.
But leave it to Hillary to attempt to "solve" yet another non-problem through government central planning. "Right now, there is no single source of information," she complained. "We need a central clearinghouse."
Centralize, centralize, centralize. From health care to education to the economy, it's the Clinton way. She views her constituents as hapless, confused victims -- unable to cope with information overload and in dire need of one-stop federal aid at all times. Clinton's latest pet project is quite reminiscent of an earlier Clinton-Gore brainchild, the national "N11" hotline, which would have used the 211 number as a national clearinghouse for traffic information, such as road conditions and bus schedules.
Explaining the rationale for a federalized transportation report, then-Vice President Al Gore pontificated: "When parents are on the car phone talking to their kids explaining why they can't get home for dinner or can't do bedtime stories, that really has an impact on the quality of life." He never did explain why it's the taxpayers' problem if those parents didn't check the local traffic reports on the radio or on television before leaving the office.
Friedrich Hayek, the late Nobel laureate economist, dissected the socialist Clinton-Gore central planning orthodoxy in The Road to Serfdom:
"One argument frequently heard is that the complexity of modern civilization creates new problems with which we cannot hope to deal effectively except by central planning. This argument is based on a complete misapprehension of the working of competition. The very complexity of modern conditions makes competition the only method by which a coordination of affairs can be adequately achieved."
Hayek continued: "There would be no difficulty about efficient control or planning were conditions so simple that a single person or board could effectively survey all the facts. But as the factors which have to be taken into account become numerous and complex, no one center can keep track of them. The constantly changing conditions of demand and supply of different commodities can never be fully known, or quickly enough disseminated by any one center."
Another related problem with centralizing information is that the centralizers dictate which information gets disseminated. Will the social service providers that Hillary deems "essential" include crisis pregnancy centers, abstinence educators or faith-based family counselors? Doubt it.
If Hillary Clinton believes it is truly a legitimate function of the federal government to play Big Nanny referral operator in order to promote the general welfare, she should publicize her own private cell phone number, field the calls herself, and leave our pocketbooks alone.