If you’ve watched TV at odd hours, you’ve seen Matthew Lesko. He is the hyped-up guy wearing a suit covered with question marks who hawks books about how to get government money so that you can realize your dream of becoming a French chef. One of his books is called Free Money For Everybody. His webpage includes testimonials about how people used the information in his books to finance activities through money they obtain from government agencies. One testimonial is from a New Jersey folk singer who used Lesko’s information to get federal and state money to fund his performance of historical songs in schools. Another is from a New York dairy farming family that got $12,000 from a local government to put in a gravel walkway for their cows.
No doubt Lesko is a savvy businessman who has done a good job of identifying governmental programs that hand out cash and making information about those programs available to everyone who will plunk down the money to buy one of his books. However, the title of his book Free Money For Everybody aptly captures a real problem with modern America. There really can’t be “free money for everybody,” of course, and the money that is being shelled out for gravel cow paths and historical folk singing is most certainly not “free” — it is being borrowed from governmental creditors, at a price.
One area of this kind of governmental largesse is job-training programs. Those programs are politically attractive to support, because no one wants to be viewed as opposing efforts to help displaced workers learn new skills. A recent report, however, has shown that those programs are largely ineffective and are riddled with waste. At the federal level, there are 47 job- and employment-training programs administered by nine different federal agencies, as well as another 51 federal programs that have some form of job-training focus. In short, there inevitably is duplication and inefficiency. The report notes that these programs cost $18 billion annually and are, almost without exception, ineffective in helping unemployed workers find jobs. Moreover, the report recounts examples of waste, fraud, and mismanagement in how the federal funds are spent.
Both President Obama and House Republicans have said they want to cut spending and make government run more like a business. One way to do that is to end the notion that there is “free money for everybody” by terminating federal programs that shell out money for purposes and projects that really aren’t essential. In this era of huge deficits, the time has come to put Matthew Lesko out of business.