Tyler Grant's Reviews > A Nation of Moochers: America's Addiction to Getting Something for Nothing

A Nation of Moochers by Charles J. Sykes
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's review
Apr 28, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: reviewed

I found this book difficult in a few ways. The book reads like a list of everything the government has ever done wrong and the author is full of righteous indignation. One reason I find the book difficult is that I am proud of our government and country and hate it to such brazen and shameless disrespect for and low esteem of it in seeking to improve it. For nearly every case brought up by Sykes should be corrected.

But therein lies another difficulty I had with this book. In listing every mistake the government has made, he is very unbalanced in the portrayal of government. There is no larger picture, no context. Each case is portrayed as a horror, but the book suffers from simple representativeness bias. Are these cases representative of the job the government is really doing? By not even addressing the counterpoint, and there certainly are some, or addressing the situation within the larger context, the book simply becomes a list of stupid things that have been done, with no relation to the bigger picture. There is no way for the reader to assess how representative these cases are? So some lady defrauded the government insurance horribly. The focus of the book is individual cases. There should be constant effort to eliminate fraud, of course, but how common is it? What percentage of claims are fraudulent? That simple fact is not addressed at all. We are simply left with the emotional horror of what a few people did to cheat the system. I have to admit I’m a bit confused. Unless fraud like this is rampant, the whole argument that the program needs to done away with is moot. And is he really surprised that there are parasites on society out there? They have always been and always will be and need to be constantly dealt with.

Simply put, Sykes doesn’t make his case in the broader context, he just racks up a list of complaints and gets all indignant about it. His judgment, perspective, and scholarship are all lacking.

Contrast this book with It’s Even Worse than it Looks, that I’m reading right now. The book is full of supporting facts and statistics and analysis of how well the data truly represent reality, with all the caveats that are necessary. A Nation of Moochers will primarily unnecessarily undermine faith in government and stir up anger. It’s a marvel to me that when a business makes a mistake, that’s capitalism. If the government makes a mistake – and remember that the government is at the end of the day, run by imperfect people – it’s a travesty.

I’ve worked for the federal government and seen the good and the bad. The government is not perfect; it is not super efficient. Take a simple example: speed limits. A perfectly efficient speed limit would change with changing conditions: weather, how many other cars on the road, type of vehicle, etc., and would vary by stretch of road and in time. But that would be too expensive to operate. So rules are made and they are inefficient. If there is no one on the road, you can probably go a little faster. If you can’t see because of a storm, the limit should be much lower. So they are annoyingly inefficient. But who would argue that they are unnecessary? The inefficiency is a necessary evil and dealing with it is part of our responsibility as citizens. It’s not an issue of individual freedom either, it’s an issue how our actions affect others. It’s an issue of being a good citizen and member of society. There are many things only the government can do and must do. Citizens need to realize this and not try to expect God-like perfection from the government.

All of that said, I believe Sykes is correct when he says that people are trying more and more to get something for nothing. The case has been made better elsewhere, I’m sure. I support measures that responsibly, gradually, and carefully cut back on carefully selected government handouts. This should be an issue both parties can work together on. However, I’ve also read that fraud and related issues are only a miniscule portion of the budget and from that perspective are not the highest priority right now, no matter how far it sticks up your craw.

Sykes solution is also pretty simple. Get everyone to step away from the trough at once. How, he doesn’t detail. Also restore shame, which is his goal in using the term moochers. Not a viable solution in my opinion. The money has to be cut off at all levels. We can’t expect people’s behavior to change.

Of course, a better solution would be for everyone to become Mormons. Then dishonesty and fraud would all but disappear and can you imagine how much better society would function???

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