Growing dependency is a terrible indicator for America’s future

Dan Mitchell, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, worries that growing dependency on the state may cripple the US economy

Uncle Sam needs you.. to stand on your own two feet
Daniel J. Mitchell
On 12 May 2011 08:04

I’m often torn between optimism and pessimism about the future. In my cheerful moments, I marvel at the American system and cheer the private sector’s ability to adapt and survive even the stupidest government interventions.

But at other times, I fret that those interventions are eroding American exceptionalism and condemning the nation to irreversible decline.

Today, I’m in a glum mood thanks to a David Brooks column in the New York Times. Here is the passage that has me fearing for the future.

“…in 1954, about 96 percent of American men between the ages of 25 and 54 worked. Today that number is around 80 percent. …According to figures from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States has a smaller share of prime age men in the work force than any other G-7 nation.

"The number of Americans on the permanent disability rolls, meanwhile, has steadily increased. Ten years ago, 5 million Americans collected a federal disability benefit. Now 8.2 million do. That costs taxpayers $115 billion a year, or about $1,500 per household.”

Who would have thought that the United States has fallen behind nations like Italy and France in the share of prime-age males in the workforce? And the figures on disability payments are shocking. I’ve actually joked about this issue before (see here and here), but it should horrify many of us that the system is being horribly scammed.

For all intents and purposes, government programs are luring/trapping people into giving up on life. And this attitude presumably gets passed on to family members and friends, with more and more people learning to rip off the system and giving up on the idea of  independent and self-reliant lives with any sort of achievement.

Brooks, not surprisingly, proposes the wrong solution. He suggests a wide range of new government programs. But whatever benefit might be achieved by bribing a few people back into the workforce will be offset by the damage imposed on the people who would be picking up the tab for the added cost.

There’s not a perfect solution for this kind of problem, particularly once the government has already created a class of people with poor work habits and diminished work ethic. But one thing we know for sure is that these programs do not belong in Washington.

We are much more likely to get better results if these programs are shifted back to the states so that innovation, experimentation, and competition lead to better approaches – both for taxpayers and especially the people whose lives are ruined by government dependency.

Daniel J. Mitchell is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, the free-market, Washington D.C. think tank. His articles are cross-posted on his blog, by agreement.

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