Robert J. Samuelson: Romney’s chance to challenge the welfare state - The Washington Post

Robert J. Samuelson: Romney’s chance to challenge the welfare state - The Washington Post

I wish the Republicans had nominated someone with at least some rhetorical skills, and ideally someone with a genuine sense of the American Dream from hard-earned experience. Mitt Romney? He might be the worst thing to happen to the GOP's public image since George W. Bush.

When Romney described 47 percent of Americans, he was ruining a discussion we must have a nation:
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. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.
More than 50 percent of Americans receive some level of federal aid. Robert Samuelson addresses this in his Washington Post column:
Actually, the share of people who receive federal benefits exceeds Romney’s 47 percent. Based on its Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), the Census Bureau estimates that in mid-2011 — the latest available figures — the number of people with benefits came to 149.8 million, or 49 percent of the population. But this figure is too low, because SIPP doesn’t include several major programs (farm subsidies and college loans and grants). With these, the total probably exceeds 50 percent. 
The big programs are well-known. In 2011, Social Security had 49.6 million recipients and Medicare 45.6 million, most of them overlapping. There were 5.2 million Americans with unemployment compensation and 3.2 million with veterans’ benefits. An estimated 107.2 million people received “means-tested” benefits available to those with low incomes. Medicaid had 80.5 million beneficiaries, food stamps 48.3 million and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) 23.1 million. Among households with means-tested benefits, almost a third received three or more.
Plus, there are state programs aiding an overlapping number of people. When half a nation receives money from the government, that money has to have come from the other half, either directly or through opportunity costs.

Can we have a nation dependent on redistribution of wealth? Samuelson argues this is a debate we need to have, but likely will not. President Obama doesn't want to tell anyone we need to cut spending on the "safety net" that has expanded well beyond its intended role. Giving out money is too popular to suggest cutting federal redistribution programs.
Dealing with it [dependency] ought to define the next president’s mission. Somehow, he must question the status quo without insulting the roughly 150 million Americans who receive federal benefits. Who deserves support and why? How much and under what conditions? Unless we ask these questions and find grounds for trimming some benefits, the budget impasse will continue and risk dangerous outcomes: a future financial crisis; crushing tax increases; or draconian cuts in programs (defense, research, highways) that aren’t payments to individuals.
And we cannot argue that the safety net has been roughly the same size since the 1960s, or even the 1980s. The safety net has expanded like a cancer. As Samuelson writes:
In 2011, payments to individuals were 65 percent of federal spending, up from 26 percent in 1960. America has created a welfare state, whether Americans admit it or not.
We have a welfare state even if we cannot admit it to ourselves. Our politicians, especially the president, seem incapable of telling voters the truth: we are broke because so many citizens want "help" that wouldn't have existed two or three decades in the past. Sorry, but everyone is not entitled to something. Entitlement is a mindset that needs to change, or it will lead to fiscal and cultural ruin.

If you want to read a rather black and white view of redistribution, one that lacks nuance, you should give this Thomas Sowell column a read. I agree with its basic premise, but it ignores how much "redistribution" is part of the American tradition — at least for the last 100 years.


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