Once there was a man who held a political make-work job like so many here…shining brass cannon around a courthouse. He did this for years…but he was not getting ahead in the world. So one day he quit his job, drew out his savings, bought a brass cannon — and went into business for himself.
– Robert A. Heinlein, “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress”
We Americans have a weird habit of claiming we want politicians to tell us the truth and then getting mad at them when they occasionally do. Mitt Romney is the latest victim of our hypocrisy.
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them.
I’m not going to quibble over the percentages because I think they are way too high, but Mitt Romney’s basic point is correct. The Democratic base includes a large segment of people who think they are entitled to stuff.
I know what some of you are thinking. (Right-wing trope! Right-wing Trope! Ratfucker!!) If you are thinking that you are wrong.
Let’s start with a basic principle – Nothing is free. Or, as the acronym “TANSTAAFL” stands for, “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” Even freedom isn’t free – our forefathers and foremothers paid for our freedom with blood.
Government cannot give us free stuff. We can pass a law giving everyone “free healthcare”, but it’s not free, somebody still has to pay for it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but we need to be honest and realistic about what we are doing.
We all benefit from government. Some of us benefit more than others. But we don’t all pay for government. Some people pay nothing. Some people pay for less than they receive. Some get what they pay for, and some pay for more than they get. That’s pretty much inevitable because the poor simply can’t afford to pay.
That’s not a problem in a prosperous nation that provides limited benefits. For most of our history the federal government didn’t need much money because it didn’t do much except fight an occasional war. The government often had surpluses and literally gave land away.
That changed, beginning with the New Deal. I am not being critical of the New Deal (or the programs that followed over the next couple decades) when I say that it vastly expanded the size and role of government. That is simply an undeniable fact. We can argue that all that social and domestic spending was worth the cost, but we cannot deny the existence of that cost.
I would be remiss if I did not point out that beginning with World War II we saw a massive increase in military spending as well. Prior to WWII the United States did not keep a large standing army or navy during peacetime. Ever since then we have been the dominant military power in the world. That cost quite a bit too.
Our current situation is due to Ronald Reagan. The New Deal and WWII put us in the hole but the government was mostly living within its means afterwards. But since spending increased dramatically in the decades following WWII, so did taxes.
New Deal liberalism built roads, dams and bridges. It electrified homes across the nation. We built schools and colleges. The post-war era was unusually prosperous for the nation so the increased taxes didn’t seem to be much of a burden.
Then the Sixties brought two things – a slowdown of economic growth and an huge increase in government spending with the Vietnam war and the Great Society programs. Times were still prosperous but taxes were beginning to pinch. In the Seventies an anti-tax movement swept the nation.
Along came Ronald Reagan. He campaigned on promises to cut taxes along with the size of government. But when he was elected he only cut taxes.
Here’s the cold, hard truth – Socialism works only until you run out of other people’s money. Guess what? We’re running out.
The classic leftist answer is “tax the rich.” That sounds nice until you do the math.
Our current national debt is over $16 TRILLION. That is $1,000,000,000 each from sixteen million millionaires. (As of 2008 there were only an estimated ten million millionaires in the whole world.) Even if we didn’t borrow another nickle we’re already that deep in the hole.
But we keeping digging deeper, and fast. We’re going deeper in debt about $3.5 billion every damn day, including Sundays and holidays. There are currently estimated to be 403 billionaires in this country. If we took a billion dollars from each of them it would only balance the budget for a little over three months. Before long we would start running out of billionaires.
We are currently borrowing about .40 cents out of every dollar the government spends. Paul Krugman wants us to do another stimulus. That’s not a bad idea if you’re old, because you won’t have to worry about paying it back. It’s not such a sweet deal for your grandkids though.
We should have had this discussion thirty years ago but a bunch of craven politicians just kicked the can down the road.
We need to get government spending under control, and we need to so it soon. That doesn’t mean we need to throw granny off a cliff. We will have to make some tough choices, however.
Most importantly, we need to understand the limits of government. We’ve let government spend money like a crackhead with a stolen credit card. That has to stop.
No more free stuff. That doesn’t mean abandoning the social safety net, it means understanding and accepting the cost of it. We have to meet our obligations to the weaker members of society, but we also need to live within our means.
I believe we can do both.