A Nation of Takers

Nicholas Eberstadt published an article in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago that highlighted some very sobering trends in American culture and society.  We’re no longer a nation of makers, but takers.  If anything is going to be done about the overwhelming debt, it must start with a serious attempt to reform (and eliminate the majority of) all entitlement programs.  The government should not be in the business of providing goods and services to the American people.  That’s what a free-market is for.  The government should be staying out of the way in order for private citizens to provide for those need help and provision.

Here are a few excerpts from the article:

  • Over the 50-plus years since 1960, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, entitlement transfers—government payments of cash, goods and services to citizens—have been growing twice as fast as overall personal income. Government transfers now account for nearly 18% of all personal income in America—up from 6% in 1960.
  • In 1960, according to the Office of Management and Budget, social-welfare programs accounted for less than a third of all federal spending. Today, entitlement programs account for nearly two-thirds of federal spending. In other words, welfare spending is nearly twice as much as defense, justice and everything else Washington does—combined. In effect, the federal government has become an entitlements machine.
  • According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly half (49%) of Americans today live in homes receiving one or more government transfer benefits. That percentage is up almost 20 points from the early 1980s. And contrary to what the Obama White House team suggested during the election campaign, this leap is not due to the aging of the population. In fact, only about one-tenth of the increase is due to upticks in old-age pensions and health-care programs for seniors.
  • Instead, the country has seen a long-term expansion in public reliance on “means-tested” programs—that is, benefits intended for the poor, such as Medicaid and food stamps. At this writing, about 35% of Americans (well over 100 million people) are accepting money, goods or services from “means-tested” government programs. This percentage is twice as high as in the early 1980s. Today, the overwhelming majority of Americans on entitlement programs are taking “means-tested” benefits. Only a third of all Americans receiving government entitlement transfers are seniors on Social Security and Medicare.
  • As entitlement outlays have risen, there has been flight of men from the work force. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the proportion of adult men 20 and older working or seeking work dropped by 13 percentage points between 1948 and 2008.
  • Arithmetically speaking, the recent American flight from work has largely been a flight to government disability programs. According to the Social Security Administration, the number of working-age Americans relying on Social Security’s disability programs has increased dramatically over the past two generations.

    In December 2012, more than 8.8 million working-age men and women took such disability payments from the government—nearly three times as many as in December 1990. For every 17 people in the labor force, there is now one recipient of Social Security disability program payments.

  • In recent years, the biggest increases in disability claims have been for “musculoskeletal” problems and mental disorders (including mood disorders). But as a practical matter, it is impossible for a health professional to ascertain conclusively whether or not a patient is suffering from back pains or sad feelings. The government’s disability-insurance programs were intended to address genuine need. On the current trajectory, the Social Security disability fund is projected to run out of money during Mr. Obama’s second term.
  • The moral hazard embedded in the explosion of social-welfare programs is plain. Transfers funded by other people’s money tend to foster a pernicious “something for nothing” mentality—especially when those transfers seem to be progressively and relentlessly growing, year by year. This “taker” mentality can only weaken civil society—even as it places ever-heavier burdens on taxpayers.Generosity is a virtue, on that we can all agree with President Obama. But being generous with other people’s money is not the same thing.

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