The New Year has started with a monstrosity of a budget deal, one that proves that neither political party, Democrats or Republicans, is really serious about controlling the growth of big government.
But soap opera dramatics about fiscal "cliffs" and sequestration shouldn’t deflect from where President Obama is really taking this country. Consider this story from the Wall Street Journal a few days before Christmas:
“Thousands of people in several Argentine cities ransacked supermarkets for a second day in the latest challenge to President Chistina Kirchner, who is struggling to revive a weak economy...In the central city Rosario, two people were killed during the incidents and 137 people arrested.
“The violence puts Mrs. Kirchner in a difficult position as the poor are [her] core constituents...Her government spends billions of dollars a year to help low income families, including free health care...[Yet] Argentine activists who claim to represent the poor traditionally block access to supermarkets in the month of December to demand free food and other items...The latest events were some of the worst acts of looting and vandalism in years.... Local media showed dozens of men, women, and children hauling away televisions, refrigerators, and food.”
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Some have said my warnings about a coming civil war between makers and takers are exaggerated. It’s true that Argentina’s politicians have been waging class warfare since Juan and Eva Peron–and they aren’t fazed when it turns bloody. Obama and the Democrats are relative newcomers to the game. But Argentina reveals who really suffers when those who create a nation’s wealth get mugged by those who spend it–as just happened this week in Washington.
It’s the poor and the middle class, the very ones big government says it’s trying to protect.
And sadly that’s where Mitt Romney had it wrong.
That 47 percent of Americans who get unemployment benefits, Social Security disability checks, Medicare and Medicaid, and government student loans, aren’t the real takers. Like the rioters in Rosario, they’re just pawns in a perennial battle between those who see wealth and prosperity as something created by hard work, ingenuity, and innovation in a free market system–or something to be doled out by government.
Experience teaches that those who believe in free markets are right. The November election and the budget deal, however, show that the other side is winning, and winning big.
Since 1970, America’s public sector has exploded as a percentage of GDP, rising to almost 25% last year. While the national unemployment rate hovers at the 8% mark, government worker unemployment rate is a cozy 3.8%. Sixteen percent of America’s workforce now work for government. By the time the Obama administration ends, we won’t be that far away from Argentina’s 21 percent.
Yet as an economic and social enterprise, government creates nothing.
Far from adding to people’s standard of living, government is the number one cause of poverty in this country. It forces those who depend on its largesse to live hand to mouth, with no time or money to plan for the future. They become unable to fend for themselves---and increasingly resentful of those who can.
When the economy tanks and the government checks have to shrink, their only alternative is to take to the streets. That’s what happening in Argentina, and in Greece; and that’s where the growth of government is taking us here, as this current budget deal increases handouts–and more and more Americans are finding that an unemployment or Social Security disability check is their only life line.
Washington’s Republicans and Democrats alike have become the toll collectors on the road to serfdom–and the road to Rosario.
How far down that road depends on how our private sector rallies in 2013 after two numbing defeats, first on November 7 and then on Capitol Hill this week.
It needs to explain to that 47 percent that when big government wins, we all lose–and that this nation won’t survive if it does.
Historian Arthur Herman is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institutein Washington, D.C. He is author of seven books, including New York Times bestseller "How the Scots Invented the Modern World" (2001); the Pulitzer Prize Finalist "Gandhi and Churchill"(2008); "To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World" (nominated for the UK's Mountbatten Prize); and the highly acclaimed "Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II," which The Economist magazine picked as one of the Best Books of 2012. His most recent work is "The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization" (Random House 2013). Follow him on Twitter@ArthurLHerman.