What If Romney Wins?

| October 30 2012
Christopher Cook

Those who read these pages regularly will have gleaned that we feel strongly that the economy is at risk of eventual collapse due to the explosion of entitlement spending, and to the demographic realities driving that spending to ever-greater heights. Absent major reform, this fate seems hard to evade, but as we have learned over the last half-century or so, the notion of reforming entitlement and welfare programs has been politically difficult, if not impossibly toxic.

One of our major concerns has been, and remains, that if a collapse happens, the left will be working overtime to blame it on free-markets and “capitalism.” The fact that we haven’t had anything close to truly free markets for a long time will be of no import—we will hear about greedy businessmen and corporations; we will be subjected to completely fraudulent (but demagogically compelling) arguments using zero-sum-game economic theories; and it will all culminate in demands for ever-greater statism to “solve” the problem. After all, that’s what they did in the 1930s, and we are still suffering for it today.

Needless to say, these calls will be far more widespread and shrill, and possibly more convincing to the masses, if a Republican is in the White House. Should Mitt Romney prevail next week, he will have a dangerous situation to manage. He will need to stabilize the U.S. economy not only for its own sake, but for the sake of generations to come. If the left manages to blame capitalism for any collapse that occurs on his watch, and institutes greater statism as a result, the effect may reverberate for decades or longer.

But as George Will lays out in Mugging our descendants, the mentality fueling much of this attitude appears to be becoming dangerously endemic in the character of our nation:

The election-eve mood is tinged with sadness stemming from well-founded fear that America’s new government is subverting America’s old character. Barack Obama’s agenda is a menu of temptations intended to change the nation’s social norms by making Americans comfortable with the degradation of democracy. This degradation consists of piling up public debt that binds unconsenting future generations to finance current consumption.

So argues Nicholas Eberstadt, an economist and demographer at American Enterprise Institute, in “A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic.” This booklet could be Mitt Romney’s closing argument.

Beginning two decades after the death of Franklin Roosevelt, who would find today’s government unrecognizable, government became a geyser of entitlements. In 2010, government at all levels transferred more than $2.2 trillion in money, goods and services to recipients — $7,200 per individual, almost $29,000 per family of four. Before 1960, only in the Depression years of 1931 and 1935 did federal transfer payments exceed other federal expenditures. During most of FDR’s 12 presidential years, income transfers were a third or less of federal spending. But between 1960 and 2010, entitlements exploded from 28 percent to 66 percent of federal spending. By 2010, more than 34 percent of households were receiving means-tested benefits. Republicans were more than merely complicit, says Eberstadt . . .

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