Quote of the Day:

Modern democracies have created a new morality. Government benefits, once conferred, cannot be revoked. People expect them and consider them property rights.

That’s from Robert Samuelson’s column this morning. You can see evidence of what he is talking about everywhere-in the riots in Europe, but also in the U.S. where we have created intergenerational dependence on the government. Samuelson adds: “The old-fashioned idea that government policies should serve the ‘national interest’ has given way to inertia and squatters’ rights.”

The Erskine Bowles-Alan Simpson commission on the national debt was mean to tackle this issue: government spending can’t be solved unless this notion is reversed. We may want to become fiscally sound once again, but we can’t unless we kick the squatters off (so to speak). According to Samuelson, they ducked the issue:

They performed an accounting exercise to shrink the deficit without trying to define what government should do and why. Their package of spending cuts and tax increases claimed to reduce budget deficits by $3.9 trillion between 2012 and 2020. Many of their proposals make sense….

But what was missing was a moral rationale for change, except for some familiar platitudes: “American cannot be great if we go broke”; or, “We have a patriotic duty . . . to give our children and grandchildren a better life.” The trouble with these pleasing lines is that they don’t address the practical question of why existing recipients of government support – farmers, the elderly, local governments, for example – should lose it.

As Samuelson points out, answers exist. It’s just that many people aren’t going to like them. Oddly enough, the Simpson-Bowles commission was willing to cut national defense, which, unlike entitlements to specific groups, does benefit the nation as a whole.

I keep saying here in Inkwell that the nation is at a tilting point. Let’s hope it tilts the right way, or we are doomed to high spending. This is a philosophical debate, and, whatever you think of the Tea Party, you have to hand it to them for raising the basic issues that must be addressed. The morality of entitlements is a key issue.