Without big government, where would we be?

by Rich Wandschneider

Like most people who use email, I get an extraordinary amount of SPAM, plus a large volume of canned messages from both sides of the political spectrum, forwarded by well-meaning friends who think I will agree or who think I should agree with the e-mail's premise. Most of these messages get a quick hit on the delete key, but not all.

Last week I read one that blasted taxation, though the writer acknowledged that an advertising agency had put together the bunch of figures he cited. They were all about the billions of dollars that we hand over to politicians: A "billion minutes ago Jesus was alive," and "a billion dollars was (gone) eight hours and 20 minutes ago at the rate our government is spending it," said the critic of all things cooked up in Washington, D.C.

The writer then listed a bunch of taxes, from dog licenses and gas taxes to Social Security and income taxes, that did not exist 100 years ago. 1910, it turns out, was when "our nation was the most prosperous in the world. We had absolutely no national debt. We had the largest middle class in the world. And mom stayed home to raise the kids."

Well, that last sentence got to me, as I considered that 100 years ago, most Americans were involved in agriculture, and yes, mom stayed home, raised kids and worked her behind off on the farm. Then I thought about the women who did not stay home, especially those in urban areas who worked 60 hours and more per week in sweat shops and factories.

And what about all the women who didn't make it very far at all? I googled "deaths in childbirth," and got this from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

"At the beginning of the 20th century, for every 1000 live births, six to nine women in the United States died of pregnancy-related complications, and approximately 100 infants died before age one year... From 1915 through 1997, the infant mortality rate declined greater than 90 percent to 7.2 per 1000 live births, and from 1900 through 1997, the maternal mortality rate declined almost 99 percent to 7.7 deaths per 100,000 live births."

Back in 1900, in some U.S. cities, up to 30 percent of infants died before reaching their first birthday. "Efforts to reduce infant mortality focused on improving environmental and living conditions in urban areas...(e.g., sewage and refuse disposal and safe drinking water)," said the Centers for Disease Control.

The government site pointed out that the key to saving mothers and their infants was social programs enacted by Congress from 1900 to the 1930s. The programs focused on public health, social welfare and spurring advances in pediatrics and obstetrics.

So I guess I say we -- and especially women -- got a pretty good deal from all those taxes. In fact, many of us would not be here at all without the intrusion of big government. Our grandparents and parents might have died in childbirth or as infants themselves.

Or, if our forebears had made it past that first hard year, they probably would not have lived very long. The average life expectancy in the United States 100 years ago was about 50 and now it's close to 80.

And ladies, the government continues to intrude on your behalf. Women didn't have the vote 100 year ago, and elective office and most professional work for women was impossible or extremely rare. Now, more than half of all medical students in this country are women, and rural Westerners have the benefit of many who've chosen to set up family practices in the region.

And don't forget: Women play basketball and volleyball and softball in high school, thanks to the federal government and Title IX mandating equal funding for boys' and girls' sports in 1972. Before that, a few girls could be cheerleaders but that was about all.

The next time you're at a basketball game watching your daughter, granddaughter, niece, or neighbor girl rack up points on the court, remember that if it weren't for the government, taxes and those agitating women's libbers, the girls would be dancing around in their short little skirts cheering the boys on. That's what they did in my day some four decades ago, when family values were strong. That's when we could concentrate on the important stuff -- boys' games.

Rich Wandschneider is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes in Joseph, Oregon.

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