All weekend we’ve been hearing the Democrats tell us that the Republican National Convention speeches are proof that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan want to take us back in time. They say they want to take us back to the days of black and white television, which is silly considering how many people were watching on large flat-screened TV’s. But perhaps they have a point – not that they will do away with modern technology, but perhaps, if we’re lucky, they will take us back to a time when so many Americans weren’t so dependent on the government for their existence.
I wonder if it’s a coincidence that they chose this meme when Nicholas Eberstadt’s essay on dependency appeared in The Wall Street Journal. Both parties are to blame for expanding this mammoth welfare state, but only one party is talking about scaling it back. (We all know it’s not the Democrat Party doing that. I can’t wait to hear what they have to say at their convention. Probably more talk about “investments” which just means higher spending.”
Eberstadt makes the case that not only is this entitlement state hurting us economically (on the backs of our children) but that it’s also destroying the character of Americans. The scope of the problem is enormous.
What is monumentally new about the American state today is the vast empire of entitlement payments that it protects, manages and finances. Within living memory, the federal government has become an entitlements machine. As a day-to-day operation, it devotes more attention and resources to the public transfer of money, goods and services to individual citizens than to any other objective, spending more than for all other ends combined.
The growth of entitlement payments over the past half-century has been breathtaking. In 1960, U.S. government transfers to individuals totaled about $24 billion in current dollars, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. By 2010 that total was almost 100 times as large. Even after adjusting for inflation and population growth, entitlement transfers to individuals have grown 727% over the past half-century, rising at an average rate of about 4% a year.
In 2010 alone, government at all levels oversaw a transfer of over $2.2 trillion in money, goods and services. The burden of these entitlements came to slightly more than $7,200 for every person in America. Scaled against a notional family of four, the average entitlements burden for that year alone approached $29,000.
A half-century of unfettered expansion of entitlement outlays has completely inverted the priorities, structure and functions of federal administration as these were understood by all previous generations.
He goes on to outline how we got here. There was a time when Americans were fiercely independent and loathe to accept any form of public assistance. Those were the days.
Overcoming America’s historic cultural resistance to government entitlements has been a long and formidable endeavor. But as we know today, this resistance did not ultimately prove an insurmountable obstacle to establishing mass public entitlements and normalizing the entitlement lifestyle. The U.S. is now on the verge of a symbolic threshold: the point at which more than half of all American households receive and accept transfer benefits from the government. From cradle to grave, a treasure chest of government-supplied benefits is there for the taking for every American citizen—and exercising one’s legal rights to these many blandishments is now part of the American way of life.
As Americans opt to reward themselves ever more lavishly with entitlement benefits, the question of how to pay for these government transfers inescapably comes to the fore. Citizens have become ever more broad-minded about the propriety of tapping new sources of finance for supporting their appetite for more entitlements. The taker mentality has thus ineluctably gravitated toward taking from a pool of citizens who can offer no resistance to such schemes: the unborn descendants of today’s entitlement-seeking population.
You can also watch and share this interview with Eberstadt in which he makes the case that we’ve become a nation of takers.
So yeah, let Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan take us back in time. If they don’t we’re all in big trouble, especially the kids who don’t get to vote.