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The problem with the Paul Ryan plan: It's not nearly radical enough

Paul Ryan's budget plan is not radical. In fact, it adds 5 to 6 trillion dollars to US debt. More important, it doesn’t get to the root of the problem bankrupting America: government redistribution of wealth. Unless we make fundamental changes to government, we'll stay on the road to ruin.

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The Ryan plan is not radical; that is, it doesn’t get to the root of the problem. It never questions the legitimacy of government redistribution of wealth. Though Ryan’s plan moves us in the right direction, with less federal spending, it is ultimately not a cure for what ails us.

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Our problem, and therefore our solution, is not primarily political, but ethical. We have lost our respect for the principle of private property. Through intellectual sophistries, we have convinced ourselves that we are entitled to some of what our neighbors have. We believe that the source of our supply is government (i.e., our fellow citizens) rather than our own contributions in the economic marketplace.

Instead of wanting a government that is limited to protecting our God-given rights, we seem to want a government that gives us things that it has, in effect, taken from others. Unless and until we divest ourselves of the notion that A has a “right” to B’s property, we will continue to lurch toward bankruptcy.

The democratic welfare state is unsustainable

The federal debt problem likely will get a lot worse and cause a lot of economic dislocation and pain before a majority of Americans are ready to admit that it is an activist, “progressive” government engaged in the problematic practice of redistributing wealth that has brought us to the brink of national bankruptcy.

Herman de Rompuy, President of the European Council, bluntly stated last year, “We can’t finance our social model any more.” The democratic welfare state is inherently unsustainable. In every area where the government has intervened to take care of us – retirement, healthcare, education – the price tag keeps soaring, as does the nagging feeling that things are getting worse instead of better.

In theory, the solution is simple: Get government out of the business of trying to deliver goods and services that the private sector can provide better and more efficiently. In practice, though, so many people are already counting on government promises to meet those needs that they will resist any attempt to privatize them and thereby shrink government.

Consequently, unless we make a fundamental change in what we expect from government, we are likely to stay on the road to bankruptcy. And our politics will grow even more strident as desperate politicians resort to extraordinary measures to come up with the funds needed to delay the day when everyone finally sees that it is impossible for Uncle Sam to make good on all his promised benefits.

Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and fellow for economic and social policy with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College, which first published a version of this piece.

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