- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 14, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The prognosis is dire: “The very nature of this country’s republican form of government is called into question.” Furthermore, the United States has reached the brink of a “tipping point,” at which “reckless growth in dependence programs has produced domestic debt crises.” Such are the findings of the Heritage Foundation’s annual “Index of Dependence on Government,” released yesterday. Reading the report makes clear why next month’s elections may be the last chance to stop government from growing so big as to cause systemic collapse.

The Heritage index is useful because it uses consistent, objective data year by year. It shows a frightening growth of individual dependence on Uncle Sam at the same time that nearly half the country pays no federal income taxes. When only half the public has a direct stake in keeping spending under control, debt grows unrestrained and politically unrestrainable. Thus, note Heritage Index authors William W. Beach and Patrick D. Tyrrell, “on May 14, 2010, the International Monetary Fund ranked the U.S. in second place among countries that must reduce their structural deficit (caused in part by spending on dependence-creating programs) or risk financial calamity.”

The numbers are staggering. Health care and welfare dependency grew 22 percent in 2009 alone. Rural and agricultural services grew 20 percent. Housing was up 15 percent. Only at the height of the Great Society did government dependence grow more rapidly - and that’s when the index was less than one-seventh of its inflation-adjusted size today. Statistics show much of the aid actually is counterproductive. Greater federal aid for higher education encourages colleges to raise tuition and fees, causing a vicious cycle of spending and tuition hikes. Farm subsidies go to big farm conglomerates - 20 percent of farmers received 80 percent of the aid - which puts smaller family farms at a disadvantage. And so on.

To their credit, Mr. Beach and Mr. Tyrrell go beyond mere green-eyeshade accounting. They lament not just the monetary costs of governmental kudzu, but also the societal costs. “This shift from local, community-based mutual-aid assistance to anonymous government payments has clearly altered the relationship between the person in need and the service provider,” they write. “Today, housing and other needs are addressed by government bureaucrats who have little or no ties to the community in which the needy person lives.” Those disappearing communal relationships are “essential to the existence of civil society itself.” The federal bureaucratic model, meanwhile, “erodes the spirit of self-reliance and self-improvement.”

Republican Congresses from 1995 to 2001 halted the trends of dependency, especially by moving more than 2 million people from welfare to work and reducing child poverty by 1.6 million children. That last number shows that the reduction of governmental bloat, not its expansion, is the true course of compassion. The Obama-Pelosi Democrats refuse to learn from this wisdom, or heed the lessons of the Heritage Index - which is why they need to lose their power.

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