This week I saw this video from Cleveland.

It was linked to an article in the Dayton Daily News about the national Lifeline program, aka Obamaphone, and it perfectly illustrates what’s known as public choice theory.

First, a quick explanation of the theory.  Essentially, this woman, and all the other people who have gotten a “free” phone, are very aware of the benefit they’ve received.  It’s a big deal to them, a big enough deal that they’ll go out and organize a demonstration to keep it.  They’ll vote for the candidate who will protect it.  It’s capable of driving their behavior.  All the people who are paying for it, on the other hand – and if you pay your cell phone bill, that’s you! – only pay a very small amount each.  It’s an amount they might see as a slight annoyance, but it’s not going to drive people to protest and it’s not going to determine how people vote.  It’s not enough to change behavior.

And therein lies the problem.  A politician doesn’t gain anything by cutting the program.  Doing so isn’t going to gain him any votes.  But if he cuts it, he could lose all those people who benefit.  If you’re a politician, what would you do?

So here we are with this Federal Obamaphone program that distributes phones to people on low incomes or disability, and I’m paying for it.  We all are.  Look at your phone bill and you’ll see “Fed Universal Service Charge.”  That’s your contribution.  Last month, it cost me $1.05.  That’s a little less than $13 a year, and I want my money back.

I almost feel silly complaining about it, but the trouble is that it doesn’t stop with that $13.  Every federal program works out to just a little bit from each of us, but combined, the government ends up taking huge amounts of my money to pay for these kinds of programs.  Other people may think they’re entitled to a phone, or food stamps, or city parks, or health care, or trams, or a thousand other things that the government provides, but I don’t really think they’re entitled to have me pay for it.

This is why it’s so much easier to grow government than it is to shrink it.  And it’s why we should be wary of even programs that seem small and harmless enough.  It’s just a phone, right?  Only it’s not.  It’s part of a whole system that fosters an entitlement mentality and nickel and dimes us to death.

Oh, and by the way, this little bit, this Obamaphone program, cost about $1.5 billion last year and continues to grow.