Champions of liberty are usually harsh critics of the welfare state. Most have accepted the notion that some kind of social safety net is here to stay, but all agree the current level of spending and income redistribution is completely and disastrously unsustainable. With what’s happening in Europe, there are few except maybe the most diehard socialists who think things can continue as they are. If only we could tax the “rich” a little bit more . . . . Yet, countries could take every penny of every “rich” person and there still wouldn’t be enough money to sustain current and future transfer payments.
Robert Samuelson, a middle of the road economist with no ideological ax to grind, argues that the situation in Europe is not all that different from that in America. Most Americans live with historical amnesia and fail to realize how radical a change the 20th Century brought to the transfer of wealth by government policy. Of course progressives and every other assorted leftist think this was a great step forward in the evolution of mankind. Most would agree that some of these policies have had beneficial effects in keeping people free of indigence. Yet the utopian mindset of such people kept them from realizing that there would be huge unintended consequences of what many on the right would consider legalized theft.
How great a change this was can only be seen in contrast, by just how much money governments used to spend, and how much now in the 21st Century:
The numbers — to those who don’t know them — are astonishing. In 1870, all government spending was 7.3 percent of national income in the United States, 9.4 percent in Britain, 10 percent in Germany and 12.6 percent in France. By 2007, the figures were 36.6 percent for the United States, 44.6 percent for Britain, 43.9 percent for Germany and 52.6 percent for France. Military costs once dominated budgets; now, social spending does.
A culture is shaped by many things, and government policy in our day is a powerful influence. Europe has complete acquiescence to the paternal nanny state, but America isn’t far behind. A country once proud of its self-reliance and connection to natural and local communities of family, church and community, many Americans now look to government for their safe harbor in the storms of life. Liberals are fond of saying the that government programs are popular, but that is only because they’ve been conditioned by decades of dependence on them, and messages from the larger culture that taking other peoples’ money is somehow compassionate. Not to mention that they’ve spent most of their lives paying into government coffers. It’s reasonable to expect to get some of that back.
But as important as government policy is, and as powerful an influence it is on the attitudes and mindset of the American people, it will not and cannot reverse the course of the dependence mindset of most Americans. Likewise, a Republican victory in next year’s election will not change the fundamental worldview of the American people. Only larger cultural forces can do that. And as long as those forces continue to peddle the welfare state message, elections will only make trivial movements of the needle.
This is why those on the right of every stripe, whatever they call themselves—conservatives, libertarians, classical liberals, traditionalists, whatever—need to pay attention to and more importantly penetrate professions of cultural influence. The most obvious and powerful of these are education, organs of the media and the arts and entertainment. Most Americans are apolitical and have more important things to do than obsess over the next election or the machinations of politicians. The cultural air they breathe everyday in classrooms, movie theaters, in front of the TVs and radios, reading their newspapers and magazine will do more to determine the future of this country then who is president or who controls congress in 2013.