EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the November 7, 2005, issue of National Review.
As Jerry Ford likes to say, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.”
And that’s true. But there’s an intermediate stage: A government big enough to give you everything you want isn’t big enough to get you to give any of it back.
That’s the position European governments find themselves in. Their citizens have become hooked on unaffordable levels of social programs which in the end will put those countries out of business. Just to get the Social Security debate in perspective, projected public-pensions liabilities are expected to rise by 2040 to about 6.8 percent of GDP in the U.S. In Greece, the figure is 25 percent–i.e., total societal collapse. So what? shrug the voters. Not my problem. I paid my taxes, I want my benefits.
This is the paradox of “social democracy.” When you demand lower taxes and less government, you’re damned by the Left as “selfish.” And, to be honest, in my case that’s true. I’m glad to find a town road at the bottom of my drive, and I’m happy to pay for the Army and a new fire truck for a volunteer fire department every now and then, but, other than that, I’d like to keep everything I earn and spend it on my priorities.
The Left, on the other hand, offers an appeal to moral virtue: It’s better to pay more in taxes and to share the burdens as a community. It’s kinder, gentler, more compassionate, more equitable. Unfortunately, as recent European election results demonstrate, nothing makes a citizen more selfish than socially equitable communitarianism: Once a fellow’s enjoying the fruits of government health care and all the rest, he couldn’t give a hoot about the broader societal interest; he’s got his, and if it’s going to bankrupt the state a generation hence, well, as long as they can keep the checks coming till he’s dead, it’s fine by him. “Social democracy” is, in that sense, explicitly anti-social . . .
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