Today, The Heritage Foundation released its 2010 Index of Dependence on Government. This annual report tracks the growth of dependence-creating federal programs, programs that crowd-out what was once America’s great civil society.
At one time, social obligations and services were carried out by community groups, family networks and even local governments. Now, an ever growing and ever more unaccountable federal bureaucracy undermines our spirit of self-reliance and self-improvement by making more and more Americans dependent on Big Government. In 2010, we witnessed a record-breaking surge in American dependence on the federal government including:
- Government support for dependent persons has grown from $7,293 per person in 1962, to $31,950 per person today (adjusted for inflation).
- 132.5 million Americans either pay no income tax or live in a household that pays no income tax. This is up from just 34.8 million in 1984.
- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid eat up 41% of all non-interest federal program spending. Unchecked, this will grow to 62% over the next decade.
Not all dependence is bad. As Heritage Foundation Center for Data Analysis director Bill Beach writes: “People spend most of their childhoods utterly dependent on their parents, and many people will rely on caregivers during their last years. Dependence on family, neighbors, fellow members of community groups, and—yes—local government is the normal, everyday stuff of life.”
But dependence on the federal government is categorically different. Federal government aid does not strengthen communities and families: just look at how the federal welfare system undermined family structures and hollowed-out communities for a generation.
Worse, federal government programs quickly become a drain on the vitality of the nation. Jonathan Rauch explains in his book, “Government’s End”: “By definition, the power of government to solve problems comes from its ability to reassign resources, whether by taxing, spending, regulating, or simply passing laws. But that very ability energizes countless investors and entrepreneurs and ordinary Americans to go digging for gold by lobbying government. In time, a whole industry – large sophisticated, professional, and to a considerable extent self-serving – emerges and then assumes a life of its own. This industry is a drain on the productive economy, and there appears to be no natural limit to its growth.”
But there is still hope for our country: the Tea Party. Decentralized and skeptical of central authority, the Tea Party offers baffled politicians and lobbyists no one to co-opt. Sally Oljar of Tea Party Patriots recently told Rauch: “Our real mission is education and providing resources to grassroots activists who want to return the country to our founding principles. We recognize that’s going to require a cultural change that will take many years to accomplish.”
The Heritage Foundation fully supports their endeavors and believes the Tea Party movement is here to stay. Heritage Foundation president Ed Feulner and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) write in today’s Politico:
Americans have been disappointed by leaders in both parties who campaigned to right past wrongs and then, after getting to Washington, cared more about power than promises. Tea party supporters care more about principle than party labels or politics. … [T]he tea party has roots that are deeper and aim higher. Deeper because it is within the best tradition of popular movements in our history — from the Great Awakening that gave rise to the American Revolution to the conservative revival that helped elect Ronald Reagan. Higher because it aims to recover our moral compass, bequeathed by our Founders and preserved ever since.
Some past grass-roots movements have succeeded, and others have failed. Success comes because the energy of the moment is translated into a lasting, governing philosophy consistent with the settled opinions of the American people. On this score, prospects look good. The tea party isn’t about to go away after the November elections. Its powerful message of limited government is likely to remain a sharp thorn in the side of those in both parties who want to continue politics as usual.
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