Column on The Story of Entitlement Addiction

The Story of Entitlement Addiction

Tibor R. Machan

Welfare states rely on a complacent population, like spoiled children on spineless parents. So when finally the jig is up, no more vital fluids to leach, it is impossible to change course without serious pain. What the Republicans are asking for now is that the Democrats and their constituents agree to simple withdrawal and not scream from the pain of it all. With the public philosophy of the Democrats this is hopeless since they have been preaching that all you need to pay for it all is to rip off the rich, to rob them of their wealth and redistribute it throughout the land. But no amount of confiscation from the rich is going to fulfill the expectations of the millions of people who have become hooked on entitlements.

Of course, for a good while this entitlement mania could be satisfied because its comeuppance could be kicked down the path for the next generation to deal with. Social security, medicare, subsidies of all sorts, unemployment compensation, funding of wildly speculative and minimally productive scientific adventures, price supports for farmers, military adventures, nearly limitless support for state colleges and universities, foreign aid, and so on and so forth–all this piled up and now the chicken are coming home to roost. And politicians and their bureaucrats didn’t prepare the population for it, so it just crashed upon the country even though many marginalized smart and decent people who knew better kept warning us. One good example was F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, not to mention several of Ludwig von Mises’s long and short books. And then there was Ayn Rand’s monumental novel of 1957, Atlas Shrugged, that pretty much foretold what we are now witnessing and must tell about to our children and grandchildren who will be the most severely hit by it all. All these warnings were waved aside by the entitlement pushers, the ones who wanted to be elected and to run the managerial state. They misunderstood or more likely refused to see how it goes when one postpones coming to terms with Draconian profligacy.

Even today the statists among us are blaming everything on freedom, on the admittedly present but certainly not decisive corruptions that occur in the welfare state’s market place–which lack the proper institutional restrains of a genuine free market. All one needs to do is follow the writings of Paul Krugman, the most avid and visible contemporary apologist for the welfare state–the more his chicken come home, the more he advocates stricter controls of people’s economic conduct. Yes, control, control and more control is the statist’s answer to everything, as if statists had a clue how to manage things without running them to the ground like virtually all statists systems (that do not benefit from cheap oil or other vital resources) do eventually.

Truth is we are in for a rough ride and few people will weather it well. And our leaders–would be rulers, in fact–don’t want to admit it since they always want to reserve the right to restart the welfare state so they can continue to pretend to serve the public. But as I recently discovered Charles de Gaulle to have said, “In order to become the master, the politician poses as the servant.” We all will be asked for sacrifices and to accept that those in charge of the public treasury are blameless; they were merely responding to their constituents and hadn’t a chance to inform them of the facts of economic life, the plainest of them being that one just cannot get blood out of a turnip.

One bit of silver lining: all this isn’t new; states throughout human history have gone bankrupt and somehow climbed out but mainly because they did not hesitate to subdue and plunder neighboring countries, to kill and maim their populations without mercy just to stay the course. But in our time, at least in the West, that option is no longer welcome a great deal; it is generally frowned upon to start a war to rip off largely peaceful countries. Instead, rulers resort to financial chicanery which ultimately amount to trying to square circles around the globe. All in the name of serving the people!

Still, lessons might be learned and the very slow and oft-interrupted road to liberation may continue.

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