Kearneysville, WV. The New York Times reports that plans in various European countries to slash spending and reduce deficits have been met with widespread protests and strikes. Apparently the EU has realized that nations simply cannot sustain the kinds of social programs that Europeans have enjoyed for some time now. These new measures are being implemented with the hope that a deeper and even more painful collapse can be avoided.
One might almost imagine that the Europeans are implementing what the Tea Party here in the U.S. is agitating for: reduced government, reduced deficits, reduced debt. Yet, when a population becomes accustomed to looking to the government for handouts, the weaning process is not going to be gentle, pleasant, or altogether peaceful. One wonders if the Tea Party would lose a significant portion of its support if it came out in favor of 1) means testing for Social Security, 2) drastically reducing Medicare, and 3) increasing the retirement age to 70. The answer is, of course, that no candidate could be elected if he or she supported such positions.It is one thing to champion the reduction of government in the abstract, for abstract sacrifices are quite easy to bear. Concrete reductions hurt, for they force us to alter the way we live. They force us to accept limits. To acknowledge that we simply cannot have it all. Such talk is down right un-American. Or at the very least it is foreign to the recent orgy of profligacy that has come to characterize American life.
Tocqueville observed that in democratic ages, individuals would generally love the power of government even if they despised the particular policies enacted, for they will be invariably attracted by the possibility that the power of the state could be wielded in behalf of their own interests. Even those who descry the expansion of the state will be sorely tempted to employ the state’s power “just this once.” As Tocqueville put it,
such men will freely admit the general principle that the power of the state should not interfere in private affairs, but as an exception, each one of them wants the state to help in the special matter with which he is preoccupied, and he wants to lead the government on to take action in his domain, though he would like to restrict it in every other direction. As a multitude of people, all at the same moment, take this particular view about a great variety of different purposes, the sphere of the central government insensibly spreads in every direction, although every individual wants to restrict it.
Thus, although centralization is not embraced as a general principle, individuals favor it when their special interests are at issue. In light of this dynamic, Tocqueville argues that it is merely a matter of time before a democratic people find themselves ruled by a centralized state, one tasked by its constituents with graciously bestowing gifts on all who live under its omni-benevolent shadow.
Of course, such a condition is not sustainable and the era of endless gifts from the state must end with a severe contraction. The entitlement crunch is coming to America just as surely as it is now shaking Europe. The longer we wait to deal with the issue, the more the “austerity measures” are going to hurt.
Question: would you vote for a candidate who told you in no uncertain terms that what our society needs is public and private discipline and that the next few years (and perhaps the next few decades) are going to be painful times as we learn to live within our means?