At a Program on American Citizenship event at AEI on Wednesday , AEI's Nicholas Eberstadt demonstrated how government entitlement spending has dramatically increased over the past 50 years — with nearly half of U.S. households receiving some sort of government benefit — and explored the implications of this trend for a self-governing citizenry. Using the American Civil War and the Great Depression as historical examples, The Weekly Standard's Jay Cost expressed concern that the U.S. democratic system is ill-suited to address long-term problems until a crisis point has been reached, warning that such a crisis point for entitlement spending is rapidly approaching.
Lawrence M. Mead of New York University also raised concerns about the lack of seriousness with which Americans seem to view the debt crisis. Dependency on the government, he noted, is not just a financial problem, but reveals an abdication of citizens' responsibility to bear the "burdens of freedom." Addressing these burdens head on, he encouraged, is the only way Americans can be truly worthy of their claims to a great and free society.
Yuval Levin of National Affairs stressed that citizenship extends beyond simply paying taxes, cautioning against the notion that only individuals who pay the largest percentage of income taxes have "skin in the game." Levin instead suggested that a healthy body politic demands that all citizens take to heart the problems of unsustainable entitlement growth and government spending.
-- Barrett Bowdre
America’s national debt now exceeds $15 trillion, which is roughly equal to the value of all goods and services the U.S. economy produces in one year. If left unchecked, America's debt will have catastrophic consequences for the future of the nation. How did we arrive at this point?
At this event, Nicholas Eberstadt of AEI will delineate the debt trend lines, exposing how over time, Americans have increasingly stuck their hands in the government "cookie jar," voting for more benefits than they are willing to pay for. Along the way, they have confounded classic liberal theory, which holds that the government’s behavior would be kept in check by the fact that citizens have to pay taxes for the services they receive. Why, and how, did this theory fail? And what can be done to remedy this flaw in American self-governance? Join Eberstadt, The Weekly’s Standard’s Jay Cost (author of “Spoiled Rotten”), New York University’s Lawrence M. Mead and Yuval Levin of National Affairs for a discussion surrounding these questions.
This event is sponsored by AEI’s Program on American Citizenship.