One of my millions of readers (or is it the one reader I have out of millions of non-readers, I keep getting confused about this) asked me to expand on the free-lunch concept I mentioned in my previous entry. As I stated last time the free-lunch idea could date back to the Depression and the radio show Duffy’s Tavern but probably pre-dates that. (Still wondering about the quality of the corned beef sandwiches you got at the free lunch counter.)
When I was still working in Washington DC many moons ago, on my lunch break I would take a walk around the mall area. Invariably I would spot maybe 3-4 or as many as 6 squirrels foraging in the hard ground looking for something to eat. One day I got the bright idea of bringing along a bag of peanuts to feed to these poor creatures who were so desperate for food. I spotted a pair of squirrels and handed them a few nuts. Suddenly more squirrels showed up seemingly out of nowhere for this free handout. Then more and more. Within a couple of minutes I was surrounded by what appeared to be more than 50 squirrels circling me like barracudas. I was beginning to become alarmed as the number of squirrels seemed to be increasing without a let up. Finally I flung down the bag of nuts and ran for my life. A similar experience occurred some years later when my wife and I tried to feed some ducks at a lake. The point to all this is that there is an infinite desire for a freebie and it’s not confined to man alone. Animals as anyone who has been a pet owner can attest are quite happy to be taken care of.
Which brings us to the free-lunch concept in politics. Most people agree that our expenditures are out of control and budget cuts are desperately needed. But these same people take the position that-“cut the other guys benefits but don’t you dare touch mine.” Seniors almost unanimously agree that, yes we need cuts, but don’t touch a hair on the heads of Medicare and Social Security. Farmers say don’t touch farm subsidies, real estate interests look for a wooden stake as if you were a vampire if you even try to discuss cutting housing benefits or the realty tax breaks available, and the list goes on and on.
In recent times I believe that this mentality goes back to the Ronald Reagan era. While Reagan was portrayed as this great fiscal conservative the facts say otherwise. The entire U.S. cumulative debt from George Washington thru Jimmy Carter was slightly under $1 trillion when Reagan became President. In the next 12 years (8 under Reagan and 4 under Bush the Elder) the deficit mushroomed to $4 trillion. According to my calculator that a 300% increase in a 12 year period. While Reagan made some token cuts in social spending, mostly around the edges, he vastly expanded Defense spending while at the same time sharply cutting taxes, mainly for wealthy tax-payers. (Yes, tax cuts for the rich.) This is what caused those enormous deficits.
Now I know that right-wingers (they call themselves conservatives but I consider them a cult) like to pretend that somehow the Dept. of Defense is not part of the normal budgetary process. I guess they figure that Defense gets its funding from the money tree that grows in the Pentagon courtyard. But Defense is indeed a very large part of our budget. Hence Reagan considered it was fine and dandy to run up huge deficits because the money wasn’t being spent on someone who was poor or sick, but on military hardware instead.
Now the entitlement mentality has been set in set in concrete. Everyone wants a balanced budget or at least to minimize the increase of future debt but who is willing to give up what they are getting from the Government. Even good ole lovable Newt who fancies himself a Reagan conservative, spent years shilling for the ethanol boondoggle. (Ethanol as made in the U.S. is from corn, mainly grown in Iowa, and the Government subsidizes it to the tune of $6 billion a year.) Since all politicians are primarily panderers and demagogues notice how none of the GOP running in the Iowa caucuses would even bring up the subject. Never mind the fact that ethanol is generally not being used for anything.
So lets drink a toast to our sense of entitlement and party like there’s no tomorrow which there may not be if we keep spending ourselves into oblivion. As for me, I bought my beer and now I’m heading down to the free-lunch counter to get one of those yummy looking pastrami sandwiches.