Economy & Budget

The Index of Dependence On Government keeps rising

The Index of Dependence On Government keeps rising

Since we find ourselves embroiled in a spirited discussion about the extent of dependency on government, the Heritage Foundation found it timely to remind us that it computes an Index of Dependency every year.  The 2013 edition of this report is being tabulated now.  It will come as no surprise to learn the dependency index has been rising steeply since the dawn of the Great Society, including sharp jumps in each of the last four years:

Heritage explains that this index, calculated with all necessary adjustments for inflation, has increased 31.73 percent over the past four years, with a 3.28 percent increase in 2011, including particularly large jumps in “higher education loans and grants and in retirement spending.”  They estimate that over 70 percent of federal spending goes into programs that create some form of dependency.  All the while, the tax base has been shrinking, as Mitt Romney memorably pointed out at a fundraiser several months ago.

“Today, more people than ever before depend on the federal government for housing, food, income, student aid, or other assistance once considered to be the responsibility of individuals, families, neighborhoods, churches, and other civil society institutions,” says the Heritage Foundation.

Meanwhile, “The United States reached another milestone in 2010: For the first time in history, half the population pays no federal income taxes.  It is the conjunction of these two trends – higher spending on dependence-creating programs, and an ever-shrinking number of taxpayers who pay for these programs – that concerns those interested in the fate of the American form of government.”

The Dependency Index raises an important point: dependency is not synonymous with helplessness.  Government dependents are not exclusively, or even mainly, people who depend entirely upon welfare programs for their daily needs.  We are reflexively inclined to think of them in such terms, because the growth of government is always justified in hyperbolic terms as a desperate battle to nourish the helpless, and reductions in government spending are assailed as heartless efforts to abandon impoverished people to doom, so that rich people can get tax cuts.

In truth, dependency reaches far into the “middle class,” and the great project of the Left is extending it even further.  It has never been a two-dimensional chess game waged purely between “makers” and “takers,” with every piece clearly painted in black or white.  It’s all about getting people who still view themselves as solidly productive members of the Sainted Middle Class to grow dependent upon the services and regulatory power of an ever-expanding central State.  It’s about ending the middle class, by blurring the lines that separate it from the poor, while erecting impenetrable barriers to wall it off from the rich.

The Left doesn’t want middle-class people who dream of being rich, and vote to protect the economic liberty they see as vital for their own investment and employment opportunities.  They want a middle class that sees the State as the only force that rescues it from poverty.  Small doses of dependency are ingested like a vaccine, to defend against a full-blown outbreak of destitution.

Look at the great student loan controversy, in which Obama posed as the champion of middle-class dreams by sticking up for federally subsidized loan rates, financed with tax hikes on small businesses, so that young people can get low-interest loans to pay for wildly over-priced college tuitions, which have come to be viewed as the most important insurance against sliding into the underclass.  Opposition to this plan was portrayed as a cruel and illogical desire to keep nice young people from receiving an education.  That’s what middle class dependency looks like.

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