Conservatives know the same thing is true about the growth of government.
Since the Depression, we’ve seen a steady increase in the size and scope of governments at all levels, from the federal Department of Education through state welfare agencies and local school systems. It’s easy to assume governments will just go on growing, forever and ever.
But this decades-long trend, like the Braves’ streak, has to end eventually. We simply can’t afford the long-term liabilities posed by all the government employees we’ve already got -- a fact that new rules from the Government Accounting Standards board will soon make clear. Those rules will force governments to explain exactly how much they’ve promised to pay to retirees in medical benefits.
Because of that, “Taxpayers will soon get a surprise bill that could exceed $1 trillion,” USA Today reported on May 18. State and local pensions alone, the paper reports, have an unfunded liability of about $500 billion. “Taxpayers will revolt when they realize the enormous cost of this,” Minnesota state auditor Pat Anderson told the paper.
That’s what Lewis M. Andrews is counting on.
Andrews is executive director of the Yankee Institute, a conservative think tank in Hartford, Conn. He predicts a second civil war is coming, one between taxpayers and government workers (both active and retired). “Taxpayers are the odds-on favorite to win,” he writes, because “a system that protects government-funded jobs from efficient restructuring, compensating public employees far more generously than those in the private sector, is over time economically unsustainable.” In other words, at some point, we’ll simply refuse to pay for all the government we’re getting.
This won’t happen right away. Just this year, the federal government hired some 6,000 extra workers to help enroll retirees in Medicare Part D, the prescription-drug plan that will cost taxpayers billions of dollars. The era of big government, clearly, is far from over.