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A Nation of Takers: Are Americans Getting More Than They Paid For?

Friday, June 29th, 2012

America’s national debt now exceeds $15 trillion, which is roughly equal to the value of all goods and services the U.S. economy produces in one year. If left unchecked, America’s debt will have catastrophic consequences for the future of the nation. How did we arrive at this point?

At a Program on American Citizenship event at AEI on Wednesday, June 20, 2012 , AEI’s Nicholas Eberstadt demonstrated how government entitlement spending has dramatically increased over the past 50 years–with nearly half of U.S. households receiving some sort of government benefit–and explored the implications of this trend for a self-governing citizenry. Using the American Civil War and the Great Depression as historical examples, The Weekly Standard’s Jay Cost expressed concern that the U.S. democratic system is ill-suited to address long-term problems until a crisis point has been reached, warning that such a crisis point for entitlement spending is rapidly approaching.

Lawrence M. Mead of New York University also raised concerns about the lack of seriousness with which Americans seem to view the debt crisis. Dependency on the government, he noted, is not just a financial problem, but reveals an abdication of citizens’ responsibility to bear the “burdens of freedom.” Addressing these burdens head on, he encouraged, is the only way Americans can be truly worthy of their claims to a great and free society.

Yuval Levin of National Affairs stressed that citizenship extends beyond simply paying taxes, cautioning against the notion that only individuals who pay the largest percentage of income taxes have “skin in the game.” Levin instead suggested that a healthy body politic demands that all citizens take to heart the problems of unsustainable entitlement growth and government spending.

Download Nicholas Eberstadt’s PowerPoint Presentation here.

AEI