Opinion

Triumph of the left, decline of America

Patrick Chisholm Writer/Editor, PolicyDynamics.Org

Paul Kennedy, author of “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers,” was wrong. Nations don’t fall because of imperial overstretch. They fall because of entitlement overstretch. It’s not what happens outside their borders, but what they do to themselves inside their borders.

The Chinese—desirous of replacing America as the world’s economic and military superpower—must be smiling. What they witnessed on March 21, when the House voted to pass health care deform, was the single biggest self-inflicted blow that America has yet taken to hasten its decent into economic and military mediocrity.

Back in the 1990s, when it became obvious that the massive entitlement programs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid eventually would bring America to the brink of economic collapse, the thinking was that the country is really going to have to get its finances in order by 2010 or so, when Social Security starts to enter the red.

But in this wacky world, we’ve only piled it on. As of 2010, Social Security has entered the red (Medicare did so years ago). It’s paying out more than it’s taking in, adding to the deficit. And the gap will get worse. Social Security and Medicare are on track to pay out some $110 trillion more than they take in during the ensuing decades.

In a sane world, by now we would have undertaken measures to fix the problem. George Bush half-heartedly tried fixing Social Security, but then later said he regretted even attempting it. Instead, Bush went the opposite direction, instituting a massive new entitlement with the help of Republicans in Congress, the prescription drug program. And no one in the Bush administration even resigned in protest.

You know the left has triumphed when even the party traditionally supportive of free markets and small government pushes through a huge new program to redistribute wealth, at a time when other redistribution programs are already positioned to bankrupt the country. Even the right had veered left.

And, of course, that was just a hint of things to come; Obama makes Bush look like a redistributionist neophyte.

Two-thirds of our tax dollars are already being redistributed to other Americans, rather than spent on traditional government services. The Office of Management and Budget estimates that more than 64 percent—yes, 64 percent—of our federal tax dollars go toward “transfer payments” or redistribution. (See “Payments for Individuals” in OMB historical table 6.1.) What will the number be after health care deform kicks in? 70 percent? That’s tax money that won’t go toward things like law enforcement, roads and bridges, environmental protection, national parks, defense, embassies, and space exploration.

Entitlement money is like drugs—once you start getting a routine supply of it, you get addicted. leftist politicians build up their power base that way. And leftists aren’t shy about admitting it: The New Yorker commentator John Cassidy intoned, Obamacare helps the Democrats’ “political calculus” as more people become dependent on government.

If things had been set up correctly from the start, it didn’t have to be this way. People still could have gotten their retirement or health care money, but it would have come out of government-mandated personal savings accounts or medical savings accounts rather than expropriated from other people.

But the left would have none of that. Their goal is to push the country to the “tipping point,” where more voters receive free money from the government than there are voters earning that money. That’s the point of no return, where it’s impossible to reverse the entitlement state.

“By the time people realize this, it is often too late for them to try a different approach, since there are more people who expect benefits from the government than there are people who pay for them. And thus begins a descent to economic and motivational malaise,” writes Patrick Lencioni. He was referring to socialist societies, but it aptly sums up our quasi-socialistic situation as well.

If the tipping point wasn’t already here, Obama is seeing to it that we reach it and go well beyond it. As Rep. Paul Ryan likes to point out, more Americans now get more in government subsidies (in the form of money or services or both) than they pay back in taxes.

Is there any hope that, should Republicans take back control of the House and/or Senate, the march toward socialism will be reversed? While Democrats have established themselves as the party of change toward socialism, Republicans certainly have not done the same as the party of change away from it, apart from a few lone voices like Ryan.

Bush and the Republicans, when they controlled the government, should have been championing health care reform (i.e., removing government-caused distortions) with the same ardor that Democrats have always championed health care deform. Instead, when Republicans weren’t defending the status quo, they were acting like Democrat mini-me’s.

If Republicans ever take back Congress, will they use reconciliation to repeal health care deform? Will they heavily promote an agenda for real reform of health care and other entitlement programs? As the status quo party, don’t get your hopes up. They likely only would stem the damage that Obama and the Democrats have caused, not reverse it.

Yes, the left truly has triumphed.

As the entitlement state keeps expanding, America’s standard of living suffers as high taxes rob people of their incomes and kill incentives to work. America’s influence in world affairs wanes as our economy suffers and as federal money gets spent on redistribution instead of foreign affairs.

Scottsman Alexander Fraser Tytler wrote in 1787:

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years.”

American voters—as well as immigrants and wanna-be immigrants—have indeed discovered that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury, and it will intensify with Obamacare. While dictatorship is very far fetched particularly in our lifetimes, economic and motivational malaise look destined to creep in.

But keep fighting. At worst, the Redistributionist left will suffer occasional losses. At best, reversing the entitlement state will be doable after all.

Patrick Chisholm, a former Christian Science Monitor columnist, runs PolicyDynamics.Org and is founder & creative director of Accentance, a D.C.-area video production company. E-mail: pat@policydynamics.org.