Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

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Commentary

November 20, 2012

The truth is not always popular

Taking government handouts is as American as reality TV.

As political economist and demographer Nicholas Eberstadt writes in his new book, A Nation of Takers: America's Entitlement Epidemic, "The United States is at 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."

Even worse, he writes, "it will only be a matter of time before a majority of Americans are seeking and obtaining 'anti-poverty' benefits - regardless of their wealth or their employment prospects."

Think about that. People who don't actually meet any poverty threshold will claim benefits because they can. Old America, meet the brave new America where meritocracy is traded in for a new smart phone.

We're already there by some measures. According to a 2009 report by the U.S. Energy Information Agency, 62 percent of households making less than $20,000 per year own between two and four televisions. Sixty-eight percent of those who earn $120,000 or more have the same number.

For a nation whose identity is rooted in hard work and personal industriousness, this is a staggering turn toward the crumbling Old World social democratic compact.

And it happened before most people even noticed.

In 1960, the welfare state was less than one third of total federal spending, according to Eberstadt. By 2010 it was two-thirds of federal spending. "Thus, in a very real sense, American governance has literally been turned upside-down by entitlements - and within living memory," he writes.

The cost is staggering. He notes that in 2010, entitlements equaled about $7,200 per person or about $29,000 for an average family of four.

And it is all being fueled by debt. As Eberstadt writes, "For the sake of pure short-term expedience, the U.S. democracy has decided to mortgage its tomorrow for a more comfortable today."

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