George Will reflects eloquently and wisely on the experience of turning 80. A slice: In 1941, life expectancy at birth in the United States was 64.8 (today, 77.8), only 6.8 percent of the population was over 65 (today, 16 percent), penicillin was on the horizon but the Salk polio vaccine was a dozen years distant, and most hospitals spent more on clean linen than medical technologies. Sixty-three percent of households did not have telephones, less than half the U.S. population age 25 and older had a high school diploma (today, 90 percent) and homosexual sex was criminalized in all 48 states. The nation has undergone a moral advancement — consider the casual callousness toward minorities of all sorts eight decades ago — as stunning as its material improvement. Yet the United States’
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In 1941, life expectancy at birth in the United States was 64.8 (today, 77.8), only 6.8 percent of the population was over 65 (today, 16 percent), penicillin was on the horizon but the Salk polio vaccine was a dozen years distant, and most hospitals spent more on clean linen than medical technologies. Sixty-three percent of households did not have telephones, less than half the U.S. population age 25 and older had a high school diploma (today, 90 percent) and homosexual sex was criminalized in all 48 states. The nation has undergone a moral advancement — consider the casual callousness toward minorities of all sorts eight decades ago — as stunning as its material improvement.
Yet the United States’ social hypochondria has deepened, and Americans’ pain thresholds have lowered during the nation’s advancement. Perhaps it is progress, of sorts, that status anxieties have displaced material deprivations in fueling the national pastime — no, not baseball: whining. But to be 80 is to have, beginning in the second half of the 20th century, lived through the emergence of today’s therapeutic culture. It saturates a large class of painfully earnest Americans — expensively schooled but negligibly educated — who, when not extravagantly indignant about Lincoln and other supposed national blemishes, are preoccupied with their malleable identities and acute sensitivities.
The real problem is the enlargement of the federal leviathan. The bigger the government, the more potentially productive resources are squandered on things that politicians like (more IRS agents, more diversity bureaucrats) and the less is left for growth. People will see their government checks but will never see the increased output and innovation that was crowded out.
This transition began in March, when Democrats enacted a federal unemployment-insurance bonus of $300. That bonus, pushing benefits past market wage rates, indisputably is causing many to shun previously held jobs, which surely will do long-term damage to the notion of working to get ahead.
Why bother? Instead, hold out for all this new state-subsidized compensation that reduces the incentive or need to work—the same skip-work choice public-school teachers across the country have made the past year.
Mr. Biden’s American Families Plan proposes four significant new federal entitlements: two years of free, universal prekindergarten; virtually free child care for all; a paid family and medical leave program; and two years of community college.
Nowhere will you find a Democrat calling these proposals what they are—entitlements like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. Rejecting that criticism at his news conference Wednesday, Mr. Biden said all his spending will “create” jobs and growth.
The increase [in employment] did not happen despite the Biden “stimulus” bill; it [failed to] happen in large part because of the bill, which was not mainly about stimulus. When the federal government pays people an extra $300 a week to be unemployed, a few million people who would have taken the many jobs available will instead take a summer holiday.
Twenty-five years later, that senator is now president of the United States. Just weeks after taking office, Joe Biden’s first major legislative achievement was the passage of a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, the entire cost of which will be added to a budget deficit that was estimated to be $2.3 trillion before the new spending was approved. Although ostensibly a package meant to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the bill contains a large number of government-expanding measures unrelated to fighting the disease, including an expensive new child subsidy entitlement that is likely to become permanent.
Clearly, the prevailing view in Washington of deficit spending and the role of government has changed over the past quarter-century. In fact, there has been a near-complete reversal. Where talk of reducing budgets and ensuring the government lives within its means used to be a bipartisan affair, now the opposite is largely true. Republicans still make occasional noises about the deficit—as they did during the passage of Biden’s stimulus bill, which received no GOP votes—but they effectively traded away any serious claim to being fiscal conservatives after overseeing deficit-hiking spending increases and tax cuts that were supposed to pay for themselves but didn’t under President Donald Trump.
Now, the new right wing is agitating for more government subsidies for families and workers, deficits be damned. Democrats, meanwhile, view low interest rates as an invitation to turn the printing press up to 11. Beyond the budget ledger, the ballooning deficit has coincided with a massive expansion of government programs.