The flames from Greece's debt crisis protests have cast new light on the perils of our own overspending and overborrowing. You know the litany. California is imploding. Public sector unions there, and across the country, are swallowing budgets. In California alone, pension costs have gone up 2,000 percent in a decade. At the national level, ObamaCare has done little to fix -- and much to hurt -- America's long-term entitlement mess. Already, America's structural deficit has tripled since 2007. Economist Price Fishback has just published a paper finding that America spends more on social welfare than socialist Sweden (though we spend it differently).
According to USA Today, "paychecks from private business shrank to their smallest share of personal income in U.S. history during the first quarter of this year," while government benefits rose to a record high. In fact, government employment is becoming a method of redistributing wealth. In 2009, the federal payroll grew and the number of federal jobs paying over $100,000 a year doubled.
The average federal worker earns over 70 percent more than the average private sector worker, writes Arthur Brooks in his new book "The Battle": "To find this acceptable, you must agree that the average federal worker is much more productive or deserving than the average person in the private sector."
Show of hands: Who thinks that's true?
Yet the Democrats want more. More what? More everything. Even as the economy is starting to grow and many experts think we should trim debt and spending, Democrats want yet another stimulus bill, to extend jobless benefits. (They call them "jobs bills" now.) It turns out that all of that talk of a "temporary" stimulus was just that: temporary talk.
Indeed, the mess we have today is merely the natural result of a century-long battle over the size of government. When it comes to the welfare state, liberals want more, conservatives want less. It seems that nobody ever talks about "enough."
Except that's not entirely true. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., offered an alternative vision of government in his famous "Roadmap." It was, in the words of New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, a blueprint for a "conservative welfare state." The idea was that the truly needy would be taken care of because they are truly needy, but middle-class entitlements would be scaled back for two simple reasons: 1) we cannot afford them, and 2) excessive government meddling in areas such as health care increases costs and wastes money.