This post is prompted by the recent insightful and timely essay by Niall Ferguson, a distinguished historian and public intellectual, on the massive public debt being run up by Western democracies in order to sustain their entitlement programs, see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financialcrisis/9338997/Reith-Lecture-Were-mortgaging-the-future-of-the-younger-generation.html. I have on a number of prior occasions remarked that our state largely functions as one giant machine for the redistribution of resources, generally from ordinary citizens and taxpayers to financially powerful and politically well-connected groups, or to those constituencies who have weight just by virtue of their numbers. Hence, our addiction to bailouts; entitlement programs; subsidies; corporate tax loopholes and credits; protective trade policies; licensure laws; our labor code; and coercive measures of every imaginable type, designed to enrich certain citizens at the expense of others.
On libertarian principles these redistributions are morally indefensible, as they violate the rights of those involuntarily subjected to these social engineering projects. Not only are these interventions unjust, they are also unwise. Our entitlement programs are especially problematic because they can be funded not by current taxpayers, who may resist paying for such goodies, but by those who have not yet entered the workforce or who are as yet unborn. This ploy is perhaps the most despicable and underhanded of all political tricks, because those who will end up with the responsibility for paying off these commitments were not even old enough to vote on them when they were made.
Future generations will face crushing levels of taxation and bleaker financial prospects. The social fabric may well rip when generations must fight over a shrinking economic pie. In the meantime, the politicians who made these impossible promises will long since be retired or dead.
We can of course blame our stupid and venal leaders, but we should look closer to home. In the words of Joseph de Maistre, an obscure early 19th century French philosopher, “Every nation has the government it deserves.” Truer words were never spoken.