For most of the life of America, and when it grew fastest, government spent just a few hundred dollars per person. Today, the federal government alone spends $10,000. Politicians talk about cuts, but the cuts rarely happen. The political class always needs more.
I see the pressure. All day, Congress listens to people who say they need and deserve help.
The cost of any one program per taxpayer is small, but the benefits are concentrated on well-organized interest groups. It's tough for a weak politician to say no.
But maybe things are changing. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., believes that "more and more people in America are beginning to wake up to the fact that this thing is coming unglued."
I asked Ryan why his colleagues say it's OK to spend more. Are they just stupid? Don't they care? Or are they pandering for votes?
"Pandering could be a part of it," he said. "But ... they believe that the government should be far larger." They are taught that by the progressives who rule academia, like Columbia University Professor Marc Lamont Hill.
"We have to make sure that the most vulnerable people are always protected," Hill says. Everyone benefits when we pay a little bit more to create universal health care. Everyone benefits when we pay a little more to have better public education systems."
Progressives use the word "we" too often. When I argued the that "we" and "government" are not the same, he said, "We always talk about the government like it's this monster in the hills that comes down and hands things out and takes our tax money."
Those are "libertarian fairytales," Hill says. "In real life, the government is us."
Government is not "us." Well, it's us in the sense that we pay the bills. But it ain't us. It's them, the policy elite and their patrons.
What percent of the economy does Hill think government should be?
"For me, housing, health care and education, in addition to national defense, are things that the government must provide for people. So if that means 20 percent, I'm OK with it. If it means 30 percent, I'm OK with it. I don't think it'll ever get that big."
Give me a break. It's already at 40 percent!
All that spending is taken from your and my pockets -- some in taxes, much in sneakier ways like government borrowing. The national debt -- now $13 trillion -- simply represents future taxes or the erosion of the dollar.
Yet progressives want us to pay more. One woman activist told our camera, "It costs to live in a civilized society, and we all need to pay our fair share."
Our "fair share" sounds good. Progressives say taking from the rich to help the poor is simply fair.
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