By Nathan Tucker
In his closing remarks during last week’s presidential debate, President Obama candidly described America as a place where “everybody’s getting a fair shot. And everybody’s getting a fair share.” Tragically, this view of America is shared by far too many voters in today’s modern welfare state.
Obama’s penchant for wealth redistribution is well known, but he is merely the supplier meeting the demand. Obama is simply responding to the desire for a redistributive state by voters who have become addicted to other people’s money. And while he is honest with his agenda, the very politicians who criticize his statements find themselves unwilling to just say “no” to their constituents.
Though few will openly admit to it, an increasing number of Americans believe that their mere existence entitles them to a fair share from the government. We have, for example, politicians telling smiling addicts that we have to “protect Medicare” because seniors have somehow “earned it” simply by “a lifetime of hard work.”
Most Americans still publicly denounce the idea of wealth redistribution, except when it comes to their “fair share.” Most decry those who live off the labor of other people, except when it comes to their own government provided jobs and benefits. As the noted economist Milton Friedman sarcastically put it, “Of course none of us are greedy. It’s only the other fellow who’s greedy.”
In 2010, 49 percent of the U.S. population lived in a household that received some form of government assistance. However, if you add all federal benefits, from Social Security to tax expenditures such as mortgage-interest deductions, 96 percent of Americans have received assistance from the federal government at some point in their lives. If you include the 22 million government employees at the federal, state, and local level, 165 million of America’s 308 citizens are at least partially dependent on the state.
The federal government will never reduce its spending so long as a majority can rob the minority to feed their addiction. While many have denounced greed on Wall Street as something evil, few have denounced the greed of the electorate as they continue to vote themselves other people’s money.
Everyone is greedy, the only difference is how they seek to satisfy their greed. In the free market, the capitalist seeks to satisfy his greed only by offering innovative goods and services consumers demand at a price they want. His greed can only be satisfied when the buyer’s greed is also voluntarily satisfied.
In a welfare state, however, where everyone is living off the trough of big government, people seek to satisfy their greed through coercion. It is simply legalized greed operated by robbers armed with the threat of government force and imprisonment.
This greed is the Achille’s heel of democracy. We have met the enemy and the enemy is us. As Benjamin Franklin foresaw, “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.”
“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government,” Alexander Tytler is attributed as warning. “It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy.”
While it is easy to blame politicians for buying votes with government benefits, we cannot expect our leaders to exercise self-control until we, the electorate, do likewise. In a democracy we get the political system we vote for, and what we want is an ever increasing redistributionist welfare state that gives us our “fair share.”
Having personally experienced tyranny, America’s Founding Generation took great pains in designing our Constitution to check abuses of power by those in political office. They failed, however, to provide any safeguard against abuse by the ultimate political authority—the majority.
It is wishful thinking to expect the electorate to stop stealing other people’s money if they never pay any consequences for doing so. They are spendthrift addicts incapable of moderating their behavior unless forced to by either a constitutional amendment prohibiting legal plunder in the first place, and/or by losing their right to vote if they or their job received some form of government subsidy.
Without such constraints, a democracy, as John Adams warned, “soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
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