In an August 31, 2012 piece entitled, “Are Entitlements Corrupting Us? Yes, American Character Is at Stake,” Wall Street Journal essayist Nicholas Eberstadt charges the greatest contributors to the burgeoning entitlement crash in the American economy are the ones who rail against it the most and loudest: Republicans. We are heading in a direction which is uncharted in our history of governance. He writes,
A half-century of unfettered expansion of entitlement outlays has completely inverted the priorities, structure and functions of federal administration as these were understood by all previous generations. Until 1960 the accepted task of the federal government, in keeping with its constitutional charge, was governing. The overwhelming share of federal expenditures was allocated to some limited public services and infrastructure investments and to defending the republic against enemies foreign and domestic.
In 1960, entitlement payments accounted for well under a third of the federal government’s total outlays—about the same fraction as in 1940, when the Great Depression was still shaping American life. But over subsequent decades, entitlements as a percentage of total federal spending soared. By 2010 they accounted for just about two-thirds of all federal spending, with all other responsibilities of the federal government making up barely one-third. In a very real sense, entitlements have turned American governance upside-down.
The issue, as Eberstadt sees it, is not limited to the oft blamed Democratic party. In fact, Republican administrations have overseen entitlement expansion at faster rates than Democratic ones.
In current political discourse, it is common to think of the Democrats as the party of entitlements, but long-term trends seem to tell a somewhat different tale. From a purely statistical standpoint, the growth of entitlement spending over the past half-century has been distinctly greater under Republican administrations than Democratic ones. Between 1960 and 2010, the growth of entitlement spending was exponential, but in any given year, it was on the whole roughly 8% higher if the president happened to be a Republican rather than a Democrat.
This is in keeping with the basic facts of the time: Notwithstanding the criticisms of “big government” that emanated from their Oval Offices from time to time, the administrations of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George W. Bush presided over especially lavish expansions of the American entitlement state. Irrespective of the reputations and the rhetoric of the Democratic and Republican parties today, the empirical correspondence between Republican presidencies and turbocharged entitlement expenditures should underscore the unsettling truth that both political parties have, on the whole, been working together in an often unspoken consensus to fuel the explosion of entitlement spending.
Note: While Social Security is often considered an entitlement by those on the left and right, it has been in existence far longer than other programs compared in this article. Additionally, Social Security is not a pure entitlement program since decades of payment into a “fund” (lockbox) is required to receive outlays in retirement years. Nevertheless, it remains a government expense within the entitlement paradigm.
The entire WSJ article is worth your read. Find it here.