Taking Care of Big Government


The Heritage Foundation has released ‘The 2013 Index of Dependence on Government.” The abstract says everything you have to know: “The great and calamitous fiscal trends of our time — dependence on government by an increasing portion of the American population, and soaring debt that threatens the financial integrity of the economy—worsened yet again in 2011 and 2012. This rise in government dependence happened despite the nation undergoing an economic recovery after the economic collapse of 2008 and 2009.

The United States has reached the point at which it must reverse the direction of both trends or eventually face economic and social collapse. ... Among the greatest danger is that the swelling over time of the ranks of Americans who enjoy government services and benefits for which they pay few or no taxes will lead to a spreading sense of entitlement that is simply incompatible with self-government.”

That sounds bad, but there’s more: “As if those circumstances were not dire enough, the country is about to witness the largest generational retirement in world history by a population that will depend on currently insolvent pension and health programs.”

Most of us, reading that introduction would probably think of something between the “cycle of poverty”, a term which became popular under the Lyndon Johnson administration, and Andy Capp, the cartoon character who, since 1957, has been  a working class man who never works. 

Superficially, this sounds like a revival of the concept of the “undeserving” poor. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said “It would be a “disservice” to further extend unemployment assistance to those who’ve been out of work for some time ... It encourages them to sit at home and do nothing.” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said, “People who are perfectly capable of working are buying things like beer.” He was talking about people getting food assistance.

Kathleen Geier, in Washington Monthly, wrote, “Simple-minded, mean-spirited ideas about good poor people vs. bad poor people have a history that goes back many centuries. As early as England’s Elizabethan-era Poor Laws, distinctions between the ‘deserving’ poor — respectable, virtuous folk who were believed to be poor through no fault of their own — and the ‘undeserving’ sort — lazy, dishonest, unmotivated — were encoded into public policy. That ideology persisted, was enforced with particular cruelty during the Victorian period, and came back with a vengeance in the 1980s, when poor-bashing and victim-blaming became all the rage. It persists to this day.”

There are still people who have learned to work the system, some for a long time. Not many, most programs in support of the poor are both highly efficient and very stingy. Anyone who can work their way around the various support services is working hard for a living. Anyway, those aren’t the people the Heritage Foundation is worried about. Their concern is that people are collecting Social Security and getting their medical care from the VA System and Medicare. They’re lamenting the fact that the government is supporting its citizens in hard times and old age. “Nearly 70% of total federal spending goes to these dependency programs,” according to the Index, which “is designed to measure the amount of federal spending on programs that assume the responsibilities of individuals, families, communities, neighborhood groups, religious institutions, and other civil society institutions.” The authors of the index are troubled by the fact that in 2011, 44.7% of the the population paid no income tax, although they don’t go so far as propose an increase in salaries so that more people would have taxable income. “Government programs not only crowd out civil society, but too frequently trap individuals and families in long-term dependence, leaving them incapable of escaping their condition for generations to come.”

What they’re talking about isn’t welfare, it’s Social Security, Medicare, veteran’s and railroad pensions, in fact any money that comes from the Federal Government and goes to people – all the stuff that shows that the government still thinks about its citizens and not just its corporations. Peter Fisher’s classic line fits: the US government is “an insurance company with an army.” And even if 44.7% of the population didn’t pay income tax, nearly 63% of households in the bottom 20% paid some Social Security and Medicare tax. The only ones that get off tax free are elderly people trying to get by on Social Security with no other income. That’s a lousy way to spend your old age.

The Heritage Foundation is concerned that the government is crowding out Met Life and the Rotary Club and the extended family – and yes it is, because that’s what governments are for.

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email sdu01@outlook.com.

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2014


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