Was This Election A Tipping Point?
I admit that I should have seen this coming. After all, I wrote the book that essentially predicted that we are rapidly becoming a nation with more takers than makers:
Human nature being what it is, politicians throughout the ages have understood that it is far easier and more popular to hand out bread and circuses, entitlements, and freebies than it is to take them away. Promises, even if they are unaffordable, tend to win more votes than truth-telling, especially if that means delivering the bad news that there is no more free lunch and that government workers might have to contribute more to their own pensions.
The central question f the book was this question:
Have we reached a tipping point where more Americans are relying on the efforts of others rather than their own?...
We are already very close to that point if we have not already crossed the line: from the corporate bailouts on Wall Street to the declining stigmas on default and dependency, the new moocher culture cuts across lines of class, race, and private and public sectors. Members of the middle class are increasingly as likely to become moochers as the poor; CEOS are as likely to belly up to the trough as the under-privileged and the Blackberry had emerged as a more effective tool for mooching than a tin cup. In the Great Bailout, an expensively educated, richly compensated, elaborately insulated, and politically powerful and well- connected elite toyed with the nation’s wealth and bailed themselves out at the expense of millions of waitresses, steam fitters, shopkeepers, school teachers, farmers, retirees -- and their children and grandchildren -- in what may turn out to be the greatest inter-generational transfer of wealth in history.
Well, now we know that President Obama was able to ride to re-election on platform that combined free stuff from food stamps to free birth control to auto bailouts. It was the election that saw the rise of the fictional "Julia," and the all-too-real Sandra Fluke as symbols of entitlement to free stuff. Ohio turned on the corporate bailout of one of the most profligate corporations of our time.
Decades ago my father, the least cynical of men, quoted a political scientist who wrote that democracy will survive until people figure out that they can vote themselves money. That appears to be the point at which we have arrived. Put bluntly, the takers outnumber the makers. The polls in this election cycle diverged in a number of ways, but in one respect they were remarkably consistent: every poll I saw, including those that forecast an Obama victory, found that most people believed Mitt Romney would do a better job than Barack Obama on the economy. So with the economy the dominant issue in the campaign, why did that consensus not assure a Romney victory? Because a great many people live outside the real, competitive economy. Over 100 million receive means tested benefits from the federal government, many more from the states. And, of course, a great many more are public employees. To many millions of Americans, the economy is mostly an abstraction.
Then there is the fact that relatively few Americans actually pay for the government they consume. To a greater extent than any other developed nation, we rely on upper-income people to finance our federal government. When that is combined with the fact that around 40% of our federal spending isn’t paid for at all–it is borrowed–it is small wonder that many self-interested voters are happy to vote themselves more government. Mitt Romney proclaimed that Barack Obama was the candidate of “free stuff,” and voters took him at his word.