The Welfare State: A Sinking Ship

Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson has laid out some uncomfortable facts that need to sink in with our policymakers before they do anything else stupid.

In “The Welfare State’s Reckoning,” Samuelson points out that Americans who are currently scoffing at the Europeans and their currency crisis are fooling themselves if they think we’re not in the same boat as our friends across the pond. Although the American welfare state isn’t quite as comprehensive or ossified as its European counterparts, it faces the same critical challenges:

To flourish, the welfare state requires favorable economics and demographics: rapid economic growth to pay for social benefits and young populations to support the old. Both economics and demographics have moved adversely.

A couple of relevant facts Samuelson does not point out:

  1. The rapid economic growth needed to sustain social programs is now prevented by those very programs, which are producing a huge drag on the European and American economies. And we’re just getting started; as my friend Tom Woods likes to point out, Social Security and Medicare have unfunded liabilities equal to twice the GDP of the entire world. Yet when anyone proposes a serious reform like raising the age of eligibility for these programs, his head ends up on a pike.
  2. The demographics needed to sustain welfare-state programs are also being destroyed by those same programs. Western married couples often feel as though both spouses have to work in order to maintain a reasonable standard of living, in large part because of high taxes on income and consumption. This sentiment is a barrier to a healthy birthrate, as are the numerous costs (real or perceived) of having and rearing children. Meanwhile, establishment organs like the Economist blather about the need to get more women into the workforce in places like southern Italy, where “backward” social conventions are preventing the birthrate from dropping to zero.

To anyone paying attention, the evidence is increasingly clear that the parasite is on the verge of killing the host. Meanwhile, we’re being treated to the spectacle of Congress and the president scrambling around in an attempt to avoid actually cutting anything between now and the end of the year. They’ll play Santa Claus as long as they possibly can.

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About Dr. J

I am Professor of Humanities at Faulkner University, where I chair the Department of Humanities and direct online M.A. and Ph.D. programs based on the Great Books of Western Civilization. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy and a member of the faculty at Liberty Classroom.
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