The real ‘en­ti­tle­ment men­tal­ity’ that is bankrupt­ing Amer­ica

The Covington News - - Opnion -

Many Repub­li­cans talk of an en­ti­tle­ment men­tal­ity that threat­ens the char­ac­ter and fi­nances of the United States. In their view, the prob­lem is that too many vot­ers feel en­ti­tled to good­ies pro­vided by the gov­ern­ment and fi­nanced by tax­pay­ers.

It is true that so-called en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams are grow­ing as a share of the fed­eral bud­get and the na­tional econ­omy. Along with spend­ing on na­tional de­fense and in­ter­est on the fed­eral debt, spend­ing on en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams con­sumes the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the fed­eral bud­get. But a close look at the data shows that it’s not a voter sense of en­ti­tle­ment that is driv­ing the process. Quite the con­trary.

The two big­gest en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams — So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care — are seen by vot­ers as trust funds they pay into dur­ing their work­ing lives and then get back in their re­tire­ment years. That’s what Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt sold vot­ers back in 1935. He wanted the “con­trib­u­tors” to have a “le­gal, moral and po­lit­i­cal right to col­lect their pen­sions.” That’s what vot­ers still want to­day. Seventy-three per­cent be­lieve the best way for the pro­gram to op­er­ate is to pro­tect the trust funds and make sure there is enough tax rev­enue to pay the promised ben­e­fits. Just 10 per­cent want to scrap this ap­proach and have the gov­ern­ment pay ben­e­fits out of the gen­eral op­er­at­ing bud­get.

There are prob­lems with the public per­cep­tion, of course, start­ing with the fact that the way our politi­cians have de­fined “trust funds” is fraud­u­lent. But those prob­lems re­flect the fail­ings and de­cep­tions of politi­cians rather than vot­ers. In So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care, vot­ers are not look­ing for a hand­out.

They are look­ing for a re­turn on money in­vested. Per­haps be­cause of their dis­trust of the politi­cians, two out of three vot­ers now think work­ers should be able to con­sider the rel­e­vant trade-offs on their own. For ex­am­ple, those who would like to re­tire later could pay less in taxes now, while those who would like to re­tire ear­lier could pay more in taxes now. That’s an in­vest­ing mind­set, not a sense of en­ti­tle­ment.

But politi­cians in Washington con­tinue to blame the vot­ers for al­legedly want­ing more gov­ern­ment than they are will­ing to pay for. The ef­fort of politi­cians to pin the blame on vot­ers di­verts at­ten­tion from the real en­ti­tle­ment men­tal­ity that threat­ens to bank­rupt the na­tion: A po­lit­i­cal class that feels en­ti­tled to rule over the rest of us. Gov­ern­ment spend­ing has gone up in ev­ery years since 1954 be­cause po­lit­i­cal lead­ers have pur­sued their own agenda rather than lis­ten­ing to vot­ers.

Over the past 58 years, vot­ers have con­sis­tently elected pres­i­dents, sen­a­tors and con­gress­man who promised to cut gov­ern­ment spend­ing, but it has never hap­pened, not even once. As shown in my new book, “The Peo­ple’s Money,” vot­ers are ready to sup­port the kind of longterm thought­ful changes needed to bal­ance the bud­get and elim­i­nate the fed­eral debt. The only thing stand­ing in the way of a so­lu­tion is the na­tion’s po­lit­i­cal lead­ers from both par­ties.

While most vot­ers view ex­ces­sive gov­ern­ment spend­ing as the prob­lem, those who feel en­ti­tled to rule over the rest of us see the vot­ers as the prob­lem. And that’s the real en­ti­tle­ment cri­sis fac­ing the na­tion to­day. The po­lit­i­cal class wants to gov­ern like it’s 1775, a time when kings were kings and con­sent of the gov­erned didn’t mat­ter.

SCOTT RAS­MUSSEN

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