We the people are entitled?

Reducing national debt is a serious concern. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) released a report urging the U.S. to “act quickly” to reduce national deficits. The IMF warned that a loss of US credibility could start a catastrophic series of events.

Fox News ran an article on the President’s efforts to reduce the national debt. The website quoted former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, who is on the President’s panel for reducing the national debt. Simpson claims that Obama’s call for a five year discretionary spending freeze will save “peanuts.” Simpson’s solution is to cut the big budget hogs.

“I’m waiting for the politician to get up and say, there’s only one way to do this, you dig into the big four, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and defense. Without cutting these four, efforts to reduce the debt will amount to “a sparrow’s belch in the midst of a typhoon,” Simpson said.

Reducing the debt is a great concern, and Simpson is correct that America must cut into the “big four” to make a difference. These four constitute the majority of the federal budget. So the obvious solution to the mounting national debt is to cut into entitlements. But as soon as there is mention of cutting entitlements and people become defensive.

Cutting entitlement programs is highly unlikely because America is one of the richest nations in the world. Many of our “poor” have cell phones, cars and more than enough food to eat. The mere fact that we have entitlement programs is in stark contrast to many countries in Africa who have real starvation problems. One only has to read the news on Africa to hear about real poverty. While there will always be those who need help, a bankrupt treasury does nothing to help them.

Perhaps the real reason Americans get so defensive about their social welfare programs is because they believe they deserve something: that they have a right to comfortable living. Simply put, America has cultivated a culture of entitlement. Simpson discussed how the President’s budget cuts, because they do not really cut much, do nothing to turn around America’s “sacrosanct” entitlement culture. Simpson is correct that America must deal with this problem. The question remains how to accomplish this.

Frederic Bastiat, in his famous political work “The Law”, outlined this concept as the tendency of people to try to live and prosper at the expense of someone else. He referred to this as the “fatal tendency of mankind.”

Ultimately, since America is a representative government, the people are culpable for the runaway spending. They elect, and keep electing people who take from the public treasury and redistribute it among whoever they please. Simpson said that people keep electing representatives who could get them “the new money.” Even though many people would agree that entitlements should be cut, it is hard to find someone who would be willing to give up their slice of the public pie. Bastiat also outlined this concept and said that people would agree with the principle that redistributing wealth was theft but would always find some compelling reason why their particular entitlement was justified.

Fixing the problem of mounting national debt, runaway spending, and bankrupt social welfare programs will take a lot more than clever politicians and big schemes. American financial reform will take a public that is willing to take responsibility for its well being and get off the crutch of government aid.

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