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Event Summary
At a Program on American Citizenship event at AEI on Wednesday , AEI’s Nicholas Eberstadt demonstrated how government entitlement spending has dramatically increased over the past 50 years — with nearly half of U.S. households receiving some sort of government benefit — and explored the implications of this trend for a self-governing citizenry. Using the American Civil War and the Great Depression as historical examples, The Weekly Standard’s Jay Cost expressed concern that the U.S. democratic system is ill-suited to address long-term problems until a crisis point has been reached, warning that such a crisis point for entitlement spending is rapidly approaching.

Lawrence M. Mead of New York University also raised concerns about the lack of seriousness with which Americans seem to view the debt crisis. Dependency on the government, he noted, is not just a financial problem, but reveals an abdication of citizens’ responsibility to bear the “burdens of freedom.” Addressing these burdens head on, he encouraged, is the only way Americans can be truly worthy of their claims to a great and free society.

Yuval Levin of National Affairs stressed that citizenship extends beyond simply paying taxes, cautioning against the notion that only individuals who pay the largest percentage of income taxes have “skin in the game.” Levin instead suggested that a healthy body politic demands that all citizens take to heart the problems of unsustainable entitlement growth and government spending.
— Barrett Bowdre

Event Description
America’s national debt now exceeds $15 trillion, which is roughly equal to the value of all goods and services the U.S. economy produces in one year. If left unchecked, America’s debt will have catastrophic consequences for the future of the nation. How did we arrive at this point?

At this event, Nicholas Eberstadt of AEI will delineate the debt trend lines, exposing how over time, Americans have increasingly stuck their hands in the government “cookie jar,” voting for more benefits than they are willing to pay for. Along the way, they have confounded classic liberal theory, which holds that the government’s behavior would be kept in check by the fact that citizens have to pay taxes for the services they receive. Why, and how, did this theory fail? And what can be done to remedy this flaw in American self-governance? Join Eberstadt, The Weekly’s Standard’s Jay Cost (author of “Spoiled Rotten”), New York University’s Lawrence M. Mead and Yuval Levin of National Affairs for a discussion surrounding these questions.

This event is sponsored by AEI’s Program on American Citizenship.


1:15 PM

1:30 PM
Gary J. Schmitt, AEI

Jay Cost, The Weekly Standard
Nicholas Eberstadt, AEI
Yuval Levin, National Affairs
Lawrence M. Mead, New York University

Gary J. Schmitt, AEI

3:00 PM

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Barrett Bowdre at [email protected], 202.862.5946.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries, please contact Véronique Rodman at [email protected], 202.862.4871.

Speaker Biographies

Jay Cost writes the twice-weekly “Morning Jay” column for The Weekly Standard and was previously a writer for Real Clear Politics. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including National Review, National Affairs, Policy Review and the New York Post. His book “Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic” (Harper) was published in May.

Nicholas Eberstadt is the Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at AEI.  A political economist and a demographer by training, he is also a senior adviser to the National Board of Asian Research, a member of the visiting committee at the Harvard School of Public Health and a member of the Global Leadership Council at the World Economic Forum. He researches and writes extensively on economic development, foreign aid, global health, demographics and poverty. He is also the author of numerous monographs and articles on North and South Korea, East Asia and countries of the former Soviet Union. His books range from “The End of North Korea” (AEI Press, 1999) to “The Poverty of the Poverty Rate” (AEI Press, 2008). In April he was awarded the 2012 Bradley Prize by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

Yuval Levin is the Hertog Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC). He is also the founding editor of National Affairs magazine and a senior editor of The New Atlantis. His areas of specialty include health care, entitlement reform, economic and domestic policy, science and technology policy, political philosophy and bioethics. Before joining EPPC, he served on the White House domestic policy staff under President George W. Bush, focusing on health care, bioethics and culture-of-life issues. He also served as executive director of the president’s Council on Bioethics. His essays and articles have appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, Newsweek and Commentary, and he is a contributing editor of National Review. He is the author of, most recently, “Imagining the Future: Science and American Democracy”(Encounter).

Lawrence M. Mead is an AEI adjunct scholar and teaches American politics and public policy at New York University. Known as one of the theoretical architects of the welfare reform of the 1990s, he has written several influential books in which he demonstrates that mandatory work requirements are essential to sound welfare policy. Mead’s scholarship has made him a frequently sought-after authority on politics and public policy. As such, he has appeared at hundreds of conferences, debates and seminars and lectures at universities, think tanks, foundations and agencies around the world.  His 2005 book “Government Matters: Welfare Reform in Wisconsin” (Princeton University Press) was a co-winner of the Louis Brownlow Book Award, given by the National Academy of Public Administration.  His most recent book is “From Prophecy to Charity: How to Help the Poor” (AEI Press, 2011).

Gary J. Schmitt is the director of the Program on American Citizenship and co-director of the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies, both at AEI. He previously served in senior positions in the U.S. Senate and the Reagan White House and as president of the New Citizenship Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to exploring the impact of public policy on American civic life. He is the author or editor of several volumes on issues pertaining to national security and has also written and lectured on American history, constitutional law, political philosophy and American political thought. His two most recent books, for which he was an editor and contributing author, are “The Rise of China: Essays on the Future Competition” (Encounter Books, 2009) and “Safety, Liberty and Islamist Terrorism: American and European Approaches to Domestic Counterterrorism” (AEI Press, 2010).

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