Out of Control State Spending – Greece, France, the U.K. and the U.S.A.

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 15th, 2010

Greece Burning – Public Sector Pay and Pensions Bankrupting the Nation

Things got ugly in Greece during their 2010 financial crisis.  At least three died one day during rioting (see Greek financial crisis explained posted 5/6/2010 on The BBC).

Three people, including a pregnant woman, have been killed during riots in Athens.

And why were the Greeks rioting?

Many of the protesters are public service workers, whose salary comes from the tax payer…

They object to their government’s plan to get Greece’s economy back under control.

It includes a freeze on public sector pay, raising the tax on fuel, and cutting pensions.

And why did Greece find herself in a position to take these austerity measures?

For years, Greece has been spending money it doesn’t have.

The government there took advantage of the economic good-times to borrow money and spend it on pay-rises for public workers and projects such as the 2004 Olympics.

France Burning – Early Retirement Age Bankrupting the Nation

Things weren’t much prettier in France.  They, too, were facing out of control state spending.  So they, too, tried to cut their spending.  And it didn’t go over well with the people (see Proposed retirement age change prompts riots in France by The Associated Press posted 11/4/2010 on The Chicago Sun-Times).

Workers opposed to a higher retirement age blocked roads to airports around France on Wednesday, leaving passengers in Paris dragging suitcases on foot along an emergency breakdown lane.

Outside the capital, hooded youths smashed store windows amid clouds of tear gas.

Riot police in black body armor forced striking workers away from blocked fuel depots in western France, restoring gasoline to areas where pumps were dry after weeks of protests over the government proposal raising the age from 60 to 62.

And what was their greatest fear of these austerity cuts?

Many workers feel the change would be a first step in eroding France’s social benefits – which include long vacations, contracts that make it hard for employers to lay off workers and a state-subsidized health care system – in favor of “American-style capitalism.”

The United Kingdom Burning – Cheap College Tuition Bankrupting the Nation

Meanwhile, in the U.K., they’re having their own riots.  And the rioters attacked the Royal Family.  Fortunately for Prince Charles, his car took the brunt of the attack (see Prince Charles’s car kicked in tuition riot by The Associated Press posted 12/9/2010 on CBC News). 

“We can confirm that the royal highnesses’ car was attacked by protesters on their way to their engagement at the London Palladium this evening. The royal highnesses are unharmed,” a statement from Prince Charles’s press secretary said.

And why were the people rioting?  Much like in Greece and France, the U.K.’s generous social benefits are bankrupting the nation.

Cameron’s government describes the move as a painful necessity to deal with a record budget deficit and a sputtering economy. To balance its books, the U.K. passed a four-year package of spending cuts worth $129 billion, which will lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs and cut or curtail hundreds of government programs.

The government proposed raising the maximum university tuition fees in England from $4,780 a year to $14,000. Students reacted with mass protests that have been marred by violence and have paralyzed some campuses.

Not Burning Yet – Social Security and Medicare Bankrupting the Nation

Social Security and Medicare are going broke.  And will.  It’s just a matter of time.  When they came into being, there was an expanding birth rate.  Actuaries counted on those birth rates to continue.  But they didn’t.  The baby boom generation had only about 3 children per family.  Whereas their parent’s generation often had 10 kids or more.

Social Security is like a Ponzi Scheme.  There are no retirement accounts.  Payroll taxes from workers today pay the retirees of today.  Think pyramid scheme.  As long as the base of the pyramid (those workers paying taxes) grows at a greater rate than the tip of the pyramid (those collecting benefits) the scheme works.  But with the reduction in birth rates and our aging population, the pyramid has inverted.  The tip of the pyramid is growing at a greater rate than the base is.  As the ‘size’ of the tip and the base approach each other, eventually one worker will support one retiree.  And if a retiree lives on, say, $30,000 a year, do the math.  In a two-income family, one income will support a retiree.  And nothing else.  And that just ain’t sustainable.  Ergo, Social Security will go broke.

Ditto for Medicare.

Obamacare – Tinder, Gasoline and a Match

All right, we’ve seen how out of control state spending has led to austerity measures throughout Europe.  And rioting.  We have two huge entitlement programs pushing our county down the same path.  Europe is cutting costs (even when cities are burning in the process).  And what do we do?  We double down.  We add a third entitlement behemoth that will make Social Security and Medicare look tiny in comparison.

Obamacare.  Affordable health care for everyone.  Because the government is going to force everyone to buy health insurance.  Because the more people who pay premiums, the lower each premium needs to be.  Think pyramid scheme.  You need more to pay in (the base) than collect benefits (the tip).  Because this ain’t insurance.  It’s the mother lode of welfare entitlements.  And it’s also something else.  Unconstitutional (see Opposition to Health Law Is Steeped in Tradition by David Leonhardt posted 12/14/2010 on The New York Times).

On Monday, a federal judge ruled part of the law to be unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court will probably need to settle the matter in the end.

But that doesn’t stop the Obamacare cheerleaders.

We’ve lived through a version of this story before, and not just with Medicare. Nearly every time this country has expanded its social safety net or tried to guarantee civil rights, passionate opposition has followed.

The opposition stems from the tension between two competing traditions in the American economy. One is the laissez-faire tradition that celebrates individuality and risk-taking. The other is the progressive tradition that says people have a right to a minimum standard of living — time off from work, education and the like.

Yes, the two competing traditions.  The individuality and risk-taking that has defined America until Woodrow Wilson and the Progressives came along.  And the entitlement mentality.  Also known as European Socialism.  Like they have, had, have in Greece, France and Great Britain.  And we’ve seen how that has worked.  But we don’t learn from the lessons of history, do we?

The federal income tax, a senator from New York said a century ago, might mean the end of “our distinctively American experiment of individual freedom.” Social Security was actually a plan “to Sovietize America,” a previous head of the Chamber of Commerce said in 1935. The minimum wage and mandated overtime pay were steps “in the direction of Communism, Bolshevism, fascism and Nazism,” the National Association of Manufacturers charged in 1938.

When my dad worked gross pay meant something.  Today it’s all about net pay.  What’s left after taxes.  Taxes have grown so great that a single wage earner has trouble raising a family.  Unlike those families back before the baby boom.  When a single wage earner could raise 10 kids.  So, yes, the federal income tax has greatly changed the American experiment in individual freedom.

Social Security has ‘Sovietize’ America.  Retirees live in fear of losing their state benefits.  And they know that it’s in their ‘best interest’ to support the state.  And they do.  At the voting booth.  Potato.  Tomato.  The only difference is that we don’t have gulags in Siberia here.  But we don’t need them.  Because the threat of cutting a retiree’s benefits scares them enough to toe the party line.

And now we want to add national health care to the mix.  Because every other rich country has jumped off that bridge.

It is clearly one of the least radical ways for the United States to end its status as the only rich country with millions and millions of uninsured.

There’s a reason why the U.S. does not pay for millions and millions of uninsured here.  Why?  See Greece, France and the U.K. above. 

Guaranteeing people a decent retirement and decent health care does more than smooth out the rough edges of capitalism. Those guarantees give people the freedom to take risks. If you know that professional failure won’t leave you penniless and won’t prevent your child from receiving needed medical care, you can leave the comfort of a large corporation and take a chance on your own idea. You can take a shot at becoming the next great American entrepreneur.

With every previous major expansion of the safety net, history has had a chance to prove the naysayers wrong. It may yet in the case of universal health coverage. But the decision now seems to rest with the nine members of the Supreme Court.

Again, see Greece, France and the U.K. above.  As nice and compassionate as it sounds, it just doesn’t work.  European Socialism.  If it did, it would have worked in Greece, France and the U.K.  But it didn’t.  And that should scare the hell out of us here.  Because we’re heading down the same road.

And history may just prove the naysayers were right.

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