Monday, December 6, 2010

The Budget, Entitlements, and Government

In today's Washington Post, Robert Samuelson wrote a poignant editorial on the much needed buget cuts.  He argues that government benefits, once lavished upon the electorate, are largely (politically) unremovable, becoming in the eyes of the people "property rights."  Coupled with the desire to minimize taxes this creates an untenable budgetary mess.  Samuelson correctly argues that partisan interests - whether farm lobbies, the elderly, or others receiving undue government support - should recognize a moral need for change and put aside their self-interest for the national interest.  In other words, he calls for a rewriting of the social contract.

The thrust of the argument is on the areas of the welfare state (or benefit state to construct it more widely in order to include agricultural subsidies and the like) that need to be slashed; however, he does tepidly venture into the more philosophical realm of the role of the state when he discusses the defense budget.  Samuelson argues that cuts to defense should not be treated the same as cuts in other areas of the national budget because "[n]ational security is government's first job."  He, unfortunately, does not take this to the next level, namely by opening a discussion on what the proper role of government is.  Government's role within society has expanded enormously and if America is to not only solve its budgetary issues but also resolve the government's wayward drift, the people need to pin down what, philosophically speaking, the purpose of government is.

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