“Government is the great fiction through which everyone endeavors to live at the expense of everyone else,” wrote the celebrated French legislator, economist, and political theorist Frederic Bastiat 165 years ago. With recent reports out of the Census Bureau indicating nearly half of all Americans are receiving some form of direct government subsidy – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment benefits, housing assistance, veterans’ benefits, etc. – can there be any doubt he was right?
Among the Census Bureau’s findings: More than 100 million Americans (more than one- third of the population) were receiving “means-tested” welfare assistance at the end of 2012, including 51 million on food stamps and 83 million on Medicaid. Many households received both. If we include Social Security, Medicare benefits, and veterans’ benefits, which do not depend on means testing for eligibility, nearly half of all households are receiving money from the other half.
That’s really what all this comes down to: some Americans taking from others. There is no doubt some Social Security recipients are already beginning to sputter with fury: “I paid into that!”
Yes, you did, and your payments – even with supposed investments – don’t come close to covering what you’re taking out of it. One of the great fictions of Social Security (and Medicare, which is part of Social Security) is that the government takes money from us while we work so that it will be there for us when we retire. In fact, no money is set aside. It’s all spent to pay for benefits or siphoned away to finance other government projects in years when tax revenues fall short of benefit payments.
If our tax dollars were really set aside for our retirement years, the government should have no problem letting Americans opt out of Social Security, right? The government wouldn’t need other people’s money to fund our benefits. But suggest an opt-out to someone in Congress and see what response you get.
As for the means-tested welfare programs, astonishingly, the number of welfare recipients has climbed since 2009, when the recession supposedly ended. The economy is growing and unemployment is falling, at least according to the Obama administration. Yet the government’s own records show government dependency is climbing.
In 2013, according to the Federal Bureau of Fiscal Services, the federal government paid more than $2 trillion in social benefits, nearly 70 percent of which went toward Social Security and Medicare. This is out of federal spending totaling $3.4 trillion. Far more money is spent on social programs than on everything else the federal government funds, including the military, education, agriculture, and transportation systems.
During the George W. Bush presidency, from 2001 to 2009, the federal debt climbed from $5.7 trillion to $10.4 trillion. Since 2009, trillions more have been added, and it’s now nearly $18 trillion. If the government’s promises are being properly funded, the debt would not be soaring.
President Lyndon Johnson launched the “War on Poverty” 50 years ago. Have we won the war? Are we about to win the war? Is there any end to the war in sight?
“Government is the great fiction through which everyone endeavors to live at the expense of everyone else.” The War on Poverty promoted the fiction, with new chapters added regularly since then, including those added by supposedly stingy Republicans. The Medicare drug program during Republican George W. Bush’s reign was the single largest entitlement expansion since the 1960s, and it was done without money being designated to fund it.
Fear the day when reality shatters the fiction. The longer the fiction lasts, the more shattering the reality will be.
Steve Stanek is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute