Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What's at Stake in the Budget Crisis

With Paul Ryan's budget proposal we are seeing the beginning of a serious discussion on entitlements and the size and scope of government. I would refer you to two articles that reveal what is at stake in the national debate over the budget and deficits. The first was written by Yuval Levin at National Affairs. You can read it here. The second is from Walter Russel Mead at the American Spectator which you can read here. Mr. Levin's article should be read by every politician and voter in this country. He presents the tragedy of the American welfare state. We have spent trillions of dollars to create a nearly permanent underclass. The reason for this sorry state of affairs is that the political left, which drove the welfare agenda, possessed a distorted view of the central institutions of American culture; marriage, the family, and the church. As a result, policies were developed that undermined the "glue" that held communities together, and provided the means for sky rocketing numbers of single parent households, which led inevitably to the increase in family poverty and cyclic welfare dependency. In other words, the mis-distribution of wealth between the economic classes and the differences between the educational and social achievements of the races is not primarily because of de-regulation and the excesses of capitalism, it is one of the consequences of the social welfare policies of the American government.

The collapse of the family among the poor-powerfully propelled by the ethic of social democracy and by a horrendously designed welfare system that was not improved until the 1990's-has vastly worsened social and economic inequality in America, and the capacity of generations to rise out of poverty.

Walter Russell Mead puts it in even more graphic terms.

The failure of the blue social model to solve the problems of the underclass in American inner cities was one of the great tragedies of the last thirty years. Hundreds of billions of dollars were spent; tens of millions of lives remained blighted, and a culture of violence, degradation, and despair has taken hold among some of our society's most vulnerable and needy people.

We have spent vast amounts of money on programs and policies that simply have not worked as we had hoped. Mead, who is a self-declared Democrat, believes that there have certainly been benefit from all that money and effort. In other words, the "blue social model" was not a total waste of money and effort. The anti-poverty programs and affirmative action has helped produced a large and increasing Black middle class and beyond. One need only read Barak and Michelle Obama's stories to see the positive effect he is talking about.

But the tragedy of the story is that these individuals are the exception to our approach to social progress. Looking closely, in fact, we see many of the influences of family and friends that kept the Obamas from being swallowed up by the vast malaise that accompanied the welfare world.

So, why are we spending yet more trillions to perpetuate this failed model of public assistance? In the debate over the budget, can we begin to talk about results and not just about intentions. Part of the reason we are in this mess is that the politicians have told us we need this or that program for the "poor," for "children," or for "education," without telling us how it was going to actually solve the underlying problems. Worse, there has been no accountability for the failure of these programs, nor a demand that they be fundamentally changed from within the political class. Criticism and demand for change have come from outside government, and thus have little power to change the model. And political correctness prevents the types of faith based, family and church oriented approaches from even being considered.

The problem extends to our assumptions about health care (we forget that the current health insurance connected to employment model is the result of government intervention), taxation, and entitlements. We claim to be caring for the middle class and the elderly while never asking if what we are doing will actually help based on real life example and experience. This becomes particularly important because Europe has already operated on many of the same assumptions we are using with horrendous results. Whether we look at Greece, Spain, or even Great Britain, we see that the social democratic welfare model cannot be sustained. To solve this problem, Sweden, for example, has already adopted some of the elements included in the Ryan budget plan, such as vouchers for education and health care and stands as a real time demonstration that they actually work. And Canada has dramatically improved its economy by a strong commitment to deficit elimination and ongoing fiscal responsibility.

As we face the upcoming battle over the budget and as we approach the 2012 elections, we must keep in mind that business as usual and the old political assumptions cannot be allowed to continue. This is not just about deficit reduction, it is about ending failed policies and approaches. It will not be easy, there are a great many entrenched interests that will fight to maintain their positions of power and priviledge. Just look at what happened to Michelle Rhee and Gov. Scott Walker when they attacked the status quo. We must prepare ourselves for a long and difficult battle, but we must also keep before us that we are fighting for the very future of our society as a bastion of prosperity, freedom, and goodness. May we declare with our patriot forefathers, "We have only begun to fight."

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