Americans pride themselves on being a self-reliant people. We know
that the freedom to make our own fortune sets us apart from many other
nations. It's what has drawn generations of immigrants to our shores --
men and women risking their lives to live a life in which they, not the
government, are in charge.
But with each passing year, that portrait flies more and more in the
face of reality. The numbers plainly show that we are becoming a people
dependent not on ourselves, but on government. We are evolving into a
nation of takers, not givers.The numbers in question come in the form of
a new Heritage Foundation report titled "The 2012 Index of Dependence
on Government." You don't have to read far before you realize that the
days of Horatio Alger stories are behind us.
Start with the most basic facts: Today, more than 67.3 million
Americans rely on assistance from Washington for everything from food,
shelter and clothing to college tuition and health care. These benefits
cost federal taxpayers roughly $2.5 trillion annually.
Oh, about those taxpayers: Even as the number of Americans receiving
federal aid rises, the number of federal taxpayers continues to drop:
Nearly half of all Americans -- 49.5 percent -- don't pay any federal
income taxes. And if that strikes you as an equation that will spell
trouble down the road, you have a better grasp of the problem than many
politicians have right now.
"The danger of a growing government-dependent population," says
William Beach, Index co-author and director of Heritage's Center for
Data Analysis, "is that it's voting for more benefits that end up being
paid by fewer taxpayers. At some point, this unsustainable fiscal model
Perhaps the most startling part of the Index concerns how much
assistance is being distributed. Americans who rely on government
receive an average $32,748 worth of benefits. How high is that? Higher
than the average American's disposable personal income: $32,446.
Yes, being dependent on government is actually a better deal for some
people than working. If that doesn't turn the whole American ideal on
its head, nothing does.
The pace of the change is troubling, too. Overall, the Index -- which
scores the nation's dependency across numerous federal assistance
programs that were once done through communities, churches, neighborhood
groups and the private sector -- rose 8.1 percent in 2010 (the most
recent data available).
Not surprisingly, all this spending is eating up a larger and larger
portion of Washington's budget. The amount of federal spending that went
toward dependence-creating government programs was 28.3 percent in
1962. By 1990, it was 48.5 percent. Now it's 70.5 percent. How much
higher can it go without making it impossible to pay for other essential
functions? Defense, for example, already faces draconian cuts in the
We shouldn't be fatalistic, of course. This disturbing course can be
reversed. But it's going to take some serious political will -- the kind
that comes only when We the People apply pressure. Congress has got to
curb federal spending, reform welfare and entitlement programs, and
encourage more community-based aid and personal responsibility.
Otherwise, we'll see the downward spiral continue. The research shows
that as bureaucratic programs replace aid from private charities,
communities and neighbors, Americans are less likely to prosper and
achieve true independence.
"Liberty means responsibility," George Bernard Shaw once wrote. "That
is why most men dread it." Most men, perhaps, but surely not Americans.
Or will later generations look back and see that we stood by and
allowed our once-great nation lose its charter as the beacon of
independence for the rest of the world?
Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org).