A View From the Cheap Seats

April 2, 2010

Greek Fire

Filed under: World — trzupek @ 10:39 am


By Rich Trzupek

Chaos in the nation of Greece, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of the European Union, ought to give thoughtful Americans pause. The economic mess that the Greeks have gotten themselves into, which is nearly as bad as the economic mess in that the General Assembly and Democratic governors have gotten Illinois into, serves as an object lesson as to what happens when legislators create government mandates and entitlements that are simply unsustainable.

In Greece, the government can no longer ignore all those past due notices, as will happen in the United States down the road, and the citizens of that ancient nation can not bear with the thought of losing all the government-provided goodies they have gotten used to.

Part of the problem the Greeks have is an aging population. There are less productive young people to pay for the government programs that support increasing numbers of retirees. In Greece, you not only get to retire in your fifties, you are guaranteed a comfortable pension for the rest of your life when you do.

That model is not unlike what has been happening in Illinois, by the by. A compliant, short-sighted series of General Assemblies have gleefully created generous pension programs for some public employees and forced municipal units of government to fund the same kind of programs for others. Those of us in the private sector, who are in charge of our own retirement plans, are thus forced to set money aside for own golden years and those of an increasing number of public sector employees.

Pension woes are not all that ails Greece of course. Greeks became addicted to government over the decades and, as inevitably happens, government grew in size, power and, most of all expense. Sure, you can make the productive people pay more taxes in order to pay for all the great things that big government does, but eventually that becomes counter-productive. At some point, people get fed up working their butts off to pay for a growing class of freeloaders. Why bother? The well runs dry and government wakes up one day to find that there is no money left to pay for all the programs that it has put into place.

That’s where Greece is today. The European Union pooled its resources to bail the Greeks out, but reasonably asked for certain economic reforms as a condition of providing the cash. Without such reforms, Greece would be back aboard the same sinking ship in no time. The EU’s conditions were not only unacceptable to the freeloader class in Greece, those conditions were positively insulting. How dare anyone demand fiscal responsibility! The freeloaders went nuts, starting rioting and generally made it clear that they were entitled to every last bit of largesse that they wanted.

In a way, the Greek response is rather similar to the way some college students reacted when they learned that tuitions were going up at state colleges in Illinois, less the rioting of course. But, the pious sense of outrage and moral justification were there all the same. Not that this was surprising, considering that the youthful set voted overwhelmingly to elect a president who has spent his life sucking off the public teat and whose wife was indignant about having to actually pay off her student loans, despite the fact that she was earning $300,000 a year in some made-up job at the time. Entitlement is in. Personal responsibility? That is so 1980s.

And so here we are today, with government debt spiraling out of control. Since Reagan left office, every administration has increased entitlement spending, with the consent of Congress. Clinton managed to do so while creating a surplus, but that was the result of the “peace dividend” that America realized as national defense was downsized following the end of the Cold War. Clinton’s record on entitlement spending is no better than any of the rest.

Liberals and Democrats, along with the president himself, continue to blame our current sorry state of affairs on George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. The war in Iraq has been expensive, but that’s not the real problem. America can afford to fight a war. The problem with George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama is that all of them, without exception, signed onto the proposition that government can, and has the obligation to, solve every problem of every individual in the United States. They signed bills that created huge obligations for future generations, and did little to fix programs like Social Security (although, to his credit George W. Bush did make the effort) that are doomed to fail.

What Barack Obama has done, and what he promises to do, will hurtle this nation farther down the road toward being Greece, faster than any other administration in history. An aging baby-boomer like me may not live to see a Greek-style crisis in America, but I’ll guarantee that – unless things change dramatically and soon – our kids sure will.


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