Monday, November 21, 2011

Supercommittee Fail

The Supercommittee failure was predicted by Newt Gingrich back in August, according to Rush Limbaugh.  The reason? All those members of Congress weren't going to let a committee of 12 make all their decisions for them.

But bigger than that is President Obama's nasty bind.  Let's assume that he and the Democratic High Command know that entitlements must be reformed.  Let's assume that they also know that healthy, sustainable entitlements are vital for the core Democratic vote, the lower income folks who don't have capital assets.  So why isn't the president out in front proposing a practical, sensible reform of entitlements?

Because to do would demoralize the troops.  It would admit that the Democrats have betrayed their base, promising benefits that cannot be paid out to the party faithful.  President Obama is planning a reelection campaign in which he fights for his base against the mean, Do Nothing Republicans.  Admitting that the Democrats have overpromised on welfare-state benefits doesn't fit the narrative.

Moreover, there is the first law of government checks.  The shortest measurable time interval in the world is the time between someone getting a government check and deciding he deserves it.  Any cuts in government benefits are hugely unpopular.  Because the people receiving them reckon they deserve them.

Maybe, one day, Democrats will vote for reform of entitlements.  But, like the Europeans, they will only do it in the context of a threatened sovereign debt default.  Because in their political calculus, only the end of the world justifies cutting government benefits.

You and I can argue about the morality of big government.  We can wail about the social destruction that government "social protection" programs cause.  But practical politicians don't care about that.  They only care about the next election, and elections are won by promising loot to your supporters.

Reform of the welfare state, if it comes before total financial meltdown, will only occur in the context of a moral movement of reform, something like the anti-slavery movement of the 19th century.  And even then, it may not succeed without violence.  The fight over slavery ended in war because slavery was very profitable, and getting more so.  There was no way that the South could be persuaded on the moral merits of emancipation.  They were making too much money. And they had also seen how emancipation had ruined the sugar planters of the British West Indies.

I'm afraid that the same is true about the welfare state.  It's likely that the beneficiaries will want to fight to retain their benefits.  And judging from the way that the Democrats have given the Occupy movement a wave and a nod, it's unlikely that Democrats will stand in the way of a violent movement to protect "our" benefits.

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