October 20, 2012

SEEDS OF OUR DYSFUNCTION: “America’s public-policy dysfunction exists not because democracy isn’t working but because it is,” George Will writes:

The housing debacle was not the result of “a spontaneous outbreak of private irresponsibility.” Public institutions and policies provided occasions and incentives for the exercise of private vices. Washington pays up to 80 percent of state Medicaid expenses, so state citizens demand more Medicaid services. Although the elderly consider Social Security and Medicare benefits earned, Greve says: “Most retirees could not have earned their expected payment streams if they had worked two or three jobs.”

“Our politics,” says Greve, “aims at inspiration on the cheap.” We should reduce government’s complicity in illusions by, for example, sending retirees “a statement showing the estimated present value of their old-age benefits; their lifetime earnings and contributions; and the earnings and contributions that it would have taken to ‘earn’ those benefits. We might then ask them who precisely should earn and remit the missing millions and in what sense it would be ‘unfair’ to modify the empty promises.”

Rash promises were made, Greve says, “in an era of prosperity, when and because we thought we could afford them.” Now they “are far too entrenched to be dislodged in the course of ordinary politics.” Even granting Mitt Romney’s embrace of something like his running mate’s reforms, this year’s politics are terribly ordinary. Although consensus is supposedly elusive, it actually is the problem. “Our operative consensus,” says Greve, “is to have a big transfer state, and not pay for it.”

If something cannot go on forever, it will stop, to coin a phrase.

Or to put it in visual terms:

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