Medical Tuesday Blog

Gov’t Healthcare: The End of American Exceptionalism- American Exceptionalism and the Entitlement State Nicholas Eberstadt

Sep 17

Written by: Del Meyer
09/17/2019 3:30 AM 

(Part VI continued from April, May, June, July, Aug) 

The worldwide spread and growth of the social-welfare state seems strongly to suggest that there is a universal demand today for such services and guarantees in affluent, democratic societies. Given the disproportionate growth almost everywhere of entitlements in relation to increases in national income, it would seem that voters in modern democracies the world over regard such benefits as “luxury goods.” In one sense, we might therefore say there is nothing particularly special about the recent American experience with the entitlement state. But as we have also seen, there is good reason to think that the entitlement state may be especially poorly suited for a nation with America’s particular political culture, sensibilities, and tradition.

The qualities celebrated under the banner of “American exceptionalism” are perhaps in poorer repair than at any time in our nation’s history. There can be little doubt (to return to our medical metaphor) that the grafting of a social-welfare system onto our body public is in no small part responsible for this state of affairs.

And there is little reason to believe that the transplant will be rejected any time soon. To date the American voter’s appetite for entitlement transfers appears to be scarcely less insatiable than those of voters anywhere else. Our political leadership, for its part, has no stomach for taking the lead in weaning the nation from entitlement dependence. Despite tactical, rhetorical opposition to further expansion of the entitlement state by many voices in Washington, and firm resistance by an honorable and principled few, collusive bipartisan support for an ever-larger welfare state is the central fact of politics in our nation’s capital today, as it has been for decades. Until and unless America undergoes some sort of awakening that turns the public against its blandishments, or some sort of forcing financial crisis that suddenly restricts the resources available to it, continued growth of the entitlement state looks very likely in the years immediately ahead. And in at least that respect, America today does not look exceptional at all.

Nicholas Eberstadt holds the Henry Wendt Chair in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute. This essay is adapted from his chapter in the forthcoming volume The State of the American Mind, edited by Mark Bauerlein and Adam Bellow (Templeton Press).

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