Americans Gradually Embracing Welfare State
Ezra’s right, I think, that this “looks more like an ideological shift than a situational one.” Indeed, I’ve long argued that, while the rhetoric of American politics has moved to the right (indeed, the word “Liberal” has been shunned by the left for years), the policy has moved to the left.
I would snark that the public’s support for giving free stuff to the poor has not kept up with its desire to pay taxes. Actually, though, that’s not really true. The American Enterprise Institute (hardly a pro-tax-hike organization) released a study last year showing that the number of Americans who feel their federal income tax burden is “too high” has been generally decreasing in recent years, with a marked drop-off since 2002. (See the relevant trend chart below the fold.) Then again, the percentage of income going to federal income taxes has actually been lowered for most Americans in the last twenty years and the percentage saying their taxes are “too low” has never risen above three percent.
Regardless, I remain part of the recalcitrant 28-29% depicted in red.
I would agree that an affluent society ought to take care of those who truly “can’t take care of themselves,” although I would stop short of saying that it’s the responsibility of government to do that. Given that government gets its ability to do anything by confiscating it from its citizens, that statement strikes me as far too strong. And my definition of “can’t take care of themselves” might be stricter than many.
I’m even more puzzled by the notion that “government should guarantee every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep,” unless some rather strong caveats are attached. Indeed, given housing costs in major metropolitan areas, that’s a pretty sweet “entitlement.” Surely, we should at least resist taking on that burden for all but those who truly “can’t help themselves”?
As a practical matter, I’m not sure how we can square the circle of absolute freedom and no responsibility for citizens. One the one hand, we have a liberal judicial culture which insists on the rights of the insane-but-not-crazy-enough-to-be-a-danger to remain at large without visible means of support and sleep wherever they damned well please. No hygiene? No problem! Sure, it lessens the enjoyment of the commons for the taxpaying masses but, hey, winos have their rights! On the other, everyone is entitled to free food, shelter, and health care cradle to grave.
So, we can’t forcibly take people who can’t or won’t support themselves off the streets and put them in state institutions — that would be inhumane! — be we have to somehow house and feed them. Hmm. Essentially, the taxpayer gets the worst features of anarchy and a welfare state.