Romney and Ryan are nuts if this latest kerfuffle stops them from talking about this (numbers courtesy of AEI’s Nick Eberstadt):
1. In 1960, U.S. government transfers to individuals totaled about $24 billion in current dollars, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. By 2010 that total was almost 100 times as large.
2. Even after adjusting for inflation and population growth, entitlement transfers to individuals have grown 727% over the past half-century, rising at an average rate of about 4% a year.
3. In 2010 alone, government at all levels oversaw a transfer of over $2.2 trillion in money, goods and services. The burden of these entitlements came to slightly more than $7,200 for every person in America. Scaled against a notional family of four, the average entitlements burden for that year alone approached $29,000
4. In 1960, entitlement payments accounted for well under a third of the federal government’s total outlays—about the same fraction as in 1940, when the Great Depression was still shaping American life. But over subsequent decades, entitlements as a percentage of total federal spending soared. By 2010 they accounted for just about two-thirds of all federal spending, with all other responsibilities of the federal government making up barely one-third.
5. Poverty- or income-related entitlements—transfers of money, goods or services, including health-care services—accounted for over $650 billion in government outlays in 2010. Between 1960 and 2010, inflation-adjusted transfers for these objectives increased by over 30-fold, or by over 7% a year.
6. For their part, entitlements for older Americans—Medicare, Social Security and other pension payments—worked out to even more by 2010, about $1.2 trillion. In real terms, these transfers multiplied by a factor of about 12 over that period—or an average growth of more than 5% a year.
7. But in purely arithmetic terms, the most astonishing growth of entitlements has been for health-care guarantees based on claims of age (Medicare) or income (Medicaid). Until the mid-1960s, no such entitlements existed; by 2010, these two programs were absorbing more than $900 billion annually.
Overcoming America’s historic cultural resistance to government entitlements has been a long and formidable endeavor. But as we know today, this resistance did not ultimately prove an insurmountable obstacle to establishing mass public entitlements and normalizing the entitlement lifestyle. The U.S. is now on the verge of a symbolic threshold: the point at which more than half of all American households receive and accept transfer benefits from the government. From cradle to grave, a treasure chest of government-supplied benefits is there for the taking for every American citizen—and exercising one’s legal rights to these many blandishments is now part of the American way of life.
And how to pay for this expanded and expanding Welfare State going forward? Massive taxes increases? On everybody? And how will this affect American as an Innovation State? What about our national character? As Eberstadt concludes: “The taker mentality has thus ineluctably gravitated toward taking from a pool of citizens who can offer no resistance to such schemes: the unborn descendants of today’s entitlement-seeking population.”
Keep talking, Mitt.