“The government who robs peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul” – George Bernard Shaw
My mother comes from a big family – she’s one of ten. My grandmother, therefore, had lots of kids and grandkids that she wanted to show love, affection, and patronage. Unfortunately, Granny had a funny way of giving away things … that didn’t belong to her.
In the early 80s we lived in Norcross, GA, in the Atlanta suburbs. My Dad had a good friend in the carpet business a few hours away in Wedowee, AL. (I’ll suppose that most of you have never seen Wedowee, Alabama. It’s the quaintest of quaint little towns. Blink and you’ll probably miss it, but it’s the kind of place a person could call home.) Having a friend in the floor covering business makes it easier (cheaper) to have new carpet installed. The old carpet wasn’t ruined or anything, but we had new, better carpet installed. We put the old carpet into rolls and stored it in the basement – but only for a bit. Turns out Granny had given it away for us.
She offered it to an aunt and uncle who could use new carpet. They showed up one day and informed us as much – the first we’d ever heard of it. My uncle had a bad back, so my Mom and Dad schlepped the old carpet out to the truck for them and off they went. Now, I don’t want to quibble about the charitable aspects of giving family members old carpet. The point is, Granny had given something away that wasn’t hers.
I remember years later she offered the same aunt and uncle a new TV set that belonged to my parents. This time, my Dad put his foot down and informed them that it was not Granny’s TV and they could not take it regardless of what she said.
When Granny died in 2000 we found another interesting twist. It turns out that Granny had given a lot of her possessions away – many times over. Not the big stuff mind you, Granddaddy’s will from a decade prior handled that. But the little (though not cheap) things were promised over and over again. For instance, Granny’s jewelry (and she had some nice jewelry) had been promised to daughters and granddaughters – several persons per item.
Now, the kids were all grown and all adults, and it all worked out. Still, some folks had to give up things they had been promised, things they already owned in heart and mind.
One wonders if America has the same mettle.
Over the past half-century or more, our progressive government has set up ever more promises on behalf of the citizenry. The US federal deficit is over $13 trillion. Estimates of the total unfunded liabilities (promises that have already been made but not budgeted for) vary, but somewhere between $65 trillion and $80 trillion appears to be the bound. $80 trillion is a lot of money. At 300 million people that’s $266,667 for every man, woman, and child. That may not be the best metric (surely Warren Buffett will pay more of it than I will, right?) so let’s try another one. In 2009 the federal government took in just over $2 trillion in “income”. So, as a ballpark, assume that for each $1000 you paid in taxes (including payroll taxes), you are on the hook for about $40,000 of unfunded liabilities. YIKES.
And who made these promises? Politicians – that we elected.
And what are these promises? Well, they almost exclusively stem from non-discretionary spending. The politicians set up certain programs that funnel money or services to citizens (and non-citizens) that meet certain criteria. Beyond a specific age you can draw a social security check in perpetuity. Similar age criteria apply to Medicare, providing medical coverage (including prescription drugs – thanks GWB). Medicaid and other programs have “means testing” to provide assistance for lower income citizens. Then there are welfare and food stamp programs, unemployment benefits, the list goes on.
(As an aside, is there anything more fiscally irresponsible than non-discretionary spending? You wouldn’t dare run your own household budget that way. You wouldn’t decree that all children in the house are to receive x amount in allowance, all adults to receive y [both varying with age]; the house will always have cable, phone, and internet; the thermostat will be set to 72 degrees in summer and 75 in winter; hot showers are a basic human right, as is standing with the refrigerator door open while you look for something to eat; all adults over the age of 16 are entitled to a car of less than three years age; blah, blah, blah. Would you? Of course not! Spending and “services” are always, always subject to the current fiscal realities. If we can’t afford it, we cut – that’s just the way it is.)
Now, you may say that you like this or that program, or that we ought to help the poor and elderly. I won’t disagree with the later – I’ll merely note that the government is not the appropriate venue for aiding the poor and the needy. To do so, the government must violate property rights of individuals (somebody has to produce the things consumed by the needy).
More has been promised than will ever be paid. Somebody is going to get shorted on something that they have been promised. These are the realities.
In this, I argue that the granny state is more insidious than even the nanny state (the idea that the government should take over all of our responsibilities). If we won the idea war tomorrow the nanny state would be defeated, but not the granny state. Suppose we convinced every man, woman, and child that all of these non-discretionary spending programs were immoral; that making promises on behalf of the next generation, without their input, is wrong; that legal plunder is plunder just the same and ought to be driven from our governance. We still have a problem.
We may well have convinced all of those beneficiaries of government largess that they must surrender their promised goods. To this, they may respond, “fine – you first” or “hey, I already paid my dues into this system, now I want my benefits.” Self-interest is well known to make people surrender their principles.
Yet, the fact remains that somebody will get turned away. Which generation will be the first with the courage to make the sacrifice? I don’t know. But sacrifice is coming, whether we choose it or not.