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The public policy blog of the American Enterprise Institute
It is official: America is not a nation of takers.
How do we know? Because the President of the United States just said so. President Obama used the occasion of his second inaugural address to take on the question of moral hazard emanating from our burgeoning entitlement state. In his estimate, there is no such risk — or at least none worth the mention.
Here is the inaugural passage in question:
…We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great. [emphasis added]
With these words, the president 1) made it clear he is aware many Americans are troubled by the seemingly relentless expansion of government entitlement benefits and its impact on our way of life, and) 2 also made it clear that he totally dismisses their concerns.
Obama’s declaration is astonishing and bold–and not in a good way. This is an extremely peculiar (and, indeed, a peculiarly extreme) formulation—and posture—for a President of all the people to adopt.
Consider the following basic facts this assertion ignores:
— According to the most recent HHS figures, over 12 million working age Americans are cashing government disability benefits: A larger total than those cashing paychecks from the entire US manufacturing sector;
— Over twice as many Americans are obtaining “means tested” anti-poverty benefits from the government as are receiving old-age pension payments from Social Security;
— Only about a tenth of the increase in Americans depending on benefits from government entitlement programs can be explained by the aging of the US population per se;
— The Social Security and Medicare programs cannot cover their own outlay commitments on the basis of the contributions of the workers they “insure”: According to the actuaries for those two government trust funds, tens of trillions of dollars of future benefits have been promised in excess of expected future Social Security/Medicare funding streams.
We could go on–but you get the point.
No entitlement problem today? Really? Enormously powerful as the office he commands may be, the president is not invested with authority to make facts disappear.
That Obama chooses to behave as if he did suggests we may be in for even more trouble with our out-of-control entitlement system over the next four years than informed citizens, Capitol Hill budgeteers, and international financial markets currently realize.
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