Thursday, May 27, 2010

Revolt of the Masses

The reason that "the masses" are a lot more prosperous and even civilized is that they have been participating in our free-market economy for years. It has made their lives easier, and they recognize it. As Arthur Brooks, the urbane president of the American Enterprise Institute, demonstrates in his new book, The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America's Future, seventy percent of Americans favor free enterprise, with only a glum thirty percent turning their tremulous palms up to the nanny state.

At any rate, after talking with thousands of ordinary Americans on talk radio and at book receptions, I have come to the conclusion that America has arrived at a historic turning point. It is not just that Tea Partiers are revolting against big government. It is something more. Usually a revolt against big government has meant that restive Americans wanted their taxes lowered, but as for cutting government back they were vague. They favored economies but certainly no cutbacks in their entitlements -- a loaded word, that, entitled to whom from what? -- or government subsidies. What makes this a historic moment is that growing numbers of Americans now accept that they too are going to have to forego at least some of their so-called entitlements. They recognize that the budget crisis is that grave.

For well over a decade simple demographics suggested that a budget crisis loomed for such programs as Social Security. Yet our politicians -- as the phrase had it -- merely kicked the can down the road. We have now arrived at the end of the road. What hastened our arrival at this dead end was the profligacy of the most inexperienced and left-wing president in American history. Budgetary overhang was ominous when the Prophet Obama arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Then he confected the Troubled Asset Relief Program, a $787 billion stimulus package, a hugely imbalanced budget, and his trillion-dollar healthcare monstrosity that he lyrically promised would save a trillion dollars. All told, it has been the largest increase in federal spending since World War II.

During times of growth, federal spending is usually in the neighborhood of 20 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). It is now rising from 21 percent of GDP to 25 percent. As a percentage of GDP, the national debt will double within a decade unless the citizenry gets control of the budget. From my travels among the citizenry, I have come to the conclusion that Americans are they are ready to do so. This fall they will elect representatives who will cut their entitlements. That will be a new day in American politics.