The Reagan approach to government rests in part upon the proposition that American society can meet the needs of the American people without continuing resort to and expansion of government. The emerging question is: if social needs are not going to be met by government, how and by whom are they going to be met, if at all? It is another to get the American people off the back of government. Reagan administration strategists know that federal programs directed to employment, student loans, nutrition, child abuse, subsidized housing, urban and economic development, the elderly, health care, legal services, environmental improvement, support for the arts and humanities and aid to education were created because somebody cared enough to make them happen.
The people who cared about them have not gone away: the politicians who advocated them, the professionals and lobbyists who designed them, the legislators who enacted them, the administrators who carried them out, the contractors and consultants who benefited from them, and the recipients of the benefits and services. The few votes by which the administration won its budget cuts in the House of Representatives did not disenfranchise millions of voters in 1982 and 1984, who will have their own chance to vote on the budget cutbacks, and their effects.
The political and substantive challenge to the Reagan administration created by its approach to government may be as great for the private sector in the United States as for the administration. The private sector consists of three main parts: nonprofit organizations, business and individuals.
May nonprofit organizations are substantially dependent upon the federal government for funds, and probably cannot be expected to fill the gap in meeting social needs that may be created by the retrenchment by government.
Business, in the mindsof many stockholders and others, has no business providing pro bono social services and benefits. While under the tax laws, corporations can spend 5 percent of their income for philanthropic purposes, fewer than half do. Even if they spent the full amount allowed, the gap between what was spent and the federal budget cuts probably would be substantial. Perhaps businesses can increases the services and benefits theincreases the services and benefits they provide to their employees in the form of pensions, health care, and the like. But such increases probably would not meet the overall need.
Individuals, through helping themselves and helping others, can perhaps do more to meet social needs, but this remains problematical.
At least three approaches are possible to the question of how social needs are to be met in the face of government retrenchment.
The first is to re-emphasize that many of the so-called "needs" -- for aid to the elderly, nutrition services employee training, health services, current levels of Social Security, and the like -- are not needs at all. If these aspirations cannot be met through the working of the economy, they cannot be met at all. In anconomy, they cannot be met at all. In anconomy, they cannot be met at all. In any event, the level of expectations is too high.
The second approach is that overall improvements in the economy will meet these needs: "A rising tide lifts all boats."
The, third is that a larger, more productive and affluent private sector in time will be able to meet many needs through expanded philanthropic activity and through more effective organization and support of the non-profit sector that expresses the American traditions of voluntarism and mutual and self-help.
The Reagan approach to government raises another question that goes beyond the provision of services and benefits eliminated by budget cuts. It is suggested by the terms "reprivatization" and "public choice." Peter Drucker and others have argued for some time that the responsibility of government is to govern: to resolve conflicts among competing groups and provide policy guidance and direction in areas of common concern, such as national defense, economic stabilization, and the like. The responsibility of government, at least the federal government, is not to deliver services and benefits to groups and individuals.
In many policy areas that go beyond the current budget cuts, the administration is asking: How can the services and benefits currently provided by government be provied by the private sector? If they cannot be provided by the private sector, can government be made more businesslike? Can the public be offered a choice of what government benefits and services it wants to purchase? Can higher fees be charged for license? Can user fees be increased? To what extent can some services and benefits simply be eliminated?
If the Reagan administration and its supporters are as imaginative, energetic and effective in developing answers to these questions as they have been in enacting budgetary and tax reductions, the second, and perhaps the most important, phase of the Reagan Revolution may be at hand.