The Journal is right to peg so much of our dire fiscal straights on the over-inflated welfare state. Beginning under FDR in the 1940s, the WSJ tracks the growth of entitlements through LBJ's Great Society and the Social Security problems of the 1970s and then onto Obama's profligate spending today. While correctly arguing that the left's counter-argument of military spending is a red herring ("But national defense spending was 7.4% of GDP and 42.8% of outlays in 1965, and only 4.8% of GDP and 20.1% of federal outlays in 2010. Defense has not caused the debt crisis."), the editorial is fair to pin some of the blame on the GOP.
Mr. Bush and Republicans did prove after 9/11 that the Washington urge to spend and borrow is bipartisan. Republicans launched a Medicare drug benefit, record outlays on education, the most expensive transportation bill in history, and home ownership aid that contributed to the housing bubble. The GOP's blunder was refusing to cut domestic spending to finance the war on terrorism. Guns and butter blowouts never last.Whatever nuanced disagreements one has with this argument, the fact is clear that the federal government is spending far beyond its means. Much of this is arguably the by-product of a process that encourages a lack of forward-thinking. The American system - and to some degree human nature - encourages politicians to dole out perks today while placing the costs on future citizens. As time progresses, entitlements are increasingly piled on and rarely are forward-looking politicians able to remove these newly constructed "rights". Political and moral arguments are marched out to defend these handouts and so the fiscal burden grows.
To be fair, the blame cannot solely lie with politicians, but must also lie with the electorate who votes for politicians who swing perks their way. Individuals and groups across the political spectrum lobby politicians for special treatment, not realizing or simply not caring that someone else will have to pay for it. Even the most stalwart small-government folk are resistant to relinquishing the handouts that they receive (Medicare?).
This is a losing mentality - a short-sighted and fatal way-of-life. Americans have, for far too long, thought about the benefits they receive from the government separately from the costs that are required to pay for these perks. It has always been someone else or some other generation that will pay. But this model of government has proven it cannot endure for any prolonged period of time.
The fiscal sanity of our government and the future of the state demands that we, as a nation, rework our way of thinking. We have become far too comfortable, as individuals and a society, living beyond our means, but it cannot continue. Citizens need to reevaluate what they expect to have and what they want others to provide for them. Remember the government does not produce anything. Whatever is provided by the government comes in one end and, with some loss along the way, goes out the other.
Government should be restructured to perform the essential duties for which a government is needed; namely providing certain common goods (roads, defense, rule of law) that all citizens benefit from and are unsuccessfully provided by the private market. It should largely cease its role as a wealth re-distributor, both across time and class. Whatever the argument one has about this program or that program, the fact is they are unsustainable in our society. The welfare state has only been maintained over the past seven decades because of the wool over America's eyes - it has been stomached because nobody has been paying for the full extent of the entitlement state. This ultimate grand bargain has allowed politicians to appease both those who want more and those who do not want to pay more (oftentimes the same people). But the free lunch has ended and Americans must reconcile themselves to reality - we can never over the long-run get more than we produce. Americans must realize that government is not a magical tool to solve society's woes or to enact some vision of morality, but a limited means of coordinating essential services that a society needs.