We’re the problem: Why government doesn’t work and is so hard to fix

We have now reached the point where much of society’s expectations of government are wildly utopian. No issue is too small, no task too great, no obligation too trivial for the government. It can tame the climate and hold back the oceans, and eliminate disease, poverty, and crime. It can guarantee “economic equality” (regardless of how mediocre that is or how great the economic consequences). There’s no limit to what government can do if cost and obligations matter far less than the “social justice” it’s supposed to (but never can) deliver.

The degree of government dependence is well-established. According to the Census Bureau, 49.2 percent of Americans now receive benefits from one or more government programs. There are 82 million households on Medicaid alone. But what is less understood is why it is so unbelievably difficult to stop or slow down the entitlement/welfare state.

It’s normally considered a budgetary problem, but at root it is a moral one. Receiving a government benefit regardless of one’s personal input is considered the right thing to do — a positive social ‘good.” This applies more to welfare than entitlement programs, but we all know that in the future individual contributions will give way to more direct government funding for entitlements.

America’s fiscal crises and government dysfunction will never end until we have a change of heart about government. If it’s only about money, rather than what is right and wrong, then we will always find ourselves borrowing more money to kick the can down the road. And as a result our crises and political divisions will only get worse.

Turning America around won’t be easy. But it’s possible, if we focus on what made America great in the first place: an abiding faith in the individual to triumph over adversity, respect for freedom, the belief that government works best when it governs least, and firm bonds of trust that make freedom possible.

Kim R. Holmes is a Distinguished Fellow at The Heritage Foundation. His new book Rebound: Getting America Back to Great can be found at http://www.heritage.org/rebound/