The Social Security and Medicare trustees have just issued their annual report on the state of these programs, and the picture is not pretty.
The combined unfunded liability, the shortfall of projected funds available to meet projected obligations, of the two programs is around $75 trillion. For perspective, the Gross National Product is $10 trillion.
We need to recognize that these two massive government programs can only continue in their current form if taxpayers agree to increases in taxes and/or cuts in benefits.
The welfare-state chickens that we hatched in 20th-century America are coming home to roost in the 21st century. If we don't start getting realistic about what we're dealing with, our children and grandchildren will not be living in a country of dreams, but a nation trying to survive.
Recently, Congress passed bankruptcy-reform legislation that will place more direct personal responsibility on every citizen waving around a credit card. We need to get equally tough with our national credit card _ the power of Congress to tax and spend.
Bankruptcy recognizes that in order to fix the problems you have created, you've got to start doing things differently.
One good first step for doing things differently is to acknowledge that Social Security and Medicare are welfare programs. They transfer tax dollars from one set of citizens to another with the objective of achieving some social end. Once we realize that these programs are welfare programs, we'll understand that they have the same inherent flaws that characterize all programs that we explicitly call welfare.
It's a fact that people change their behavior when government takes over aspects of their lives for which they had once been responsible. Most people wouldn't go to work if they felt the government was going to pay their bills.
When Congress passed sweeping welfare reform in 1996, politicians finally recognized that government was making huge expenditures to welfare recipients that encouraged them to perpetuate the very problems that they needed to solve. Welfare had stepped well over the line from being a social safety net to becoming a social engineering program. Lives were destroyed rather than helped.
Our welfare system needs more improvement, but the 1996 reforms have been successful. By scaling back government and helping individuals get realistic about the challenges in their lives, millions have gotten off the dole and gone to work. Confused and disenfranchised former welfare recipients are now building real and productive lives for themselves.