Refine & Enlarge
Modern democracies have created a new morality. Government benefits, once conferred, cannot be revoked. People expect them and consider them property rights. Just as government cannot randomly confiscate property, it cannot withdraw benefits without violating a moral code. The old-fashioned idea that government policies should serve the "national interest" has given way to inertia and squatters' rights.
So opines Robert Samuelson in today's WaPo, drawing specific attention to Europe's present fiscal miseries, America's reckless similarities and the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform's "accounting exercise to shrink the deficit without trying to define what government should do and why." The overarching problem is that commission has failed to produce "a moral rationale for change."
The "entitlement" mentality has long been a feature of American politics, but the urgency of an economic downturn is finally forcing Americans to confront the unsustainability and pending consequences of this problem. Samuelson notes:
The social contract will be rewritten either by design or, as in Europe, under outside pressures. If we keep the expedient morality of perpetual programs - so that nothing fundamental can ever be abandoned - then Europe's social unrest could be a prelude to our own.
Samuelson hopes to begin a conversation about "the broader national interest" in order to form a philosophy of government. I salute his intention, second his diagnosis of the problem and commend his prescription for change - but I wonder if he has noticed that the Tea Party has already begun this particular conversation - and November's election was America's response.
The principle question now is whether our politicians have the knowledge and prudence to decipher the public will and translate it into governing policy. This would be a considerable accomplishment in the formulation of a new governing philosophy, as it would provide an example of true "politics": statesmen responding to sentiments of the citizens by crafting just and prudent laws respecting the will of the people and mindful of the good of the state.