President Barack Obama has proved his adeptness at exploiting the vote pump: Dependence on government has increased by 23 percent under his administration, according to the Heritage Foundation 2012 Index of Dependence on Government.
More people than ever before — 67.3 million Americans — depend on the federal government for housing, food, income, student aid or other assistance. Consider: The nation committed more than 15 times the resources in 2010 than in 1962 to pay for people who depend on the government. More than 70 percent of the nation’s spending goes to dependence programs, up from 28.3 percent in 1962 and 48.5 percent in 1990. The Index grew 8.1 percent in 2010 alone.
So, lest you think the increase in dependence stems primarily from temporary, recession-related rises in flexible spending programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, note well that increased dependence has been a steady trend for the entire decade the Heritage Foundation has released its index.
At the same time, the percentage of the population that pays no federal income taxes whatsoever has also increased. In 1984, just 14.8 percent of Americans — or 34.8 million tax filers — paid no federal income taxes; in 2009, 49.5 percent — or 151.7 million tax filers — paid nothing.
Also coincidentally, individuals and local entities now provide less assistance to needy members of society today than they have historically. Before World War II, mutual-aid, religious and education organizations once provided the majority of housing assistance and financial aid; after World War II, the federal and state governments began to provide the bulk of low-cost housing and financial help. Same story with health care.
Heritage experts Bill Beach and Patrick Tyrell explain why government assistance is less conducive of human flourishing than the help civil society historically provided:
This shift from local, community-based, mutual-aid assistance to anonymous government payments has clearly altered the relationship between the receiver and the provider of the assistance. In the past, a person in need depended on help from people and organizations in his or her local community. The community representatives were generally aware of the person’s needs and tailored the assistance to meet those needs within the community’s budgetary constraints. Today, housing and other needs are addressed by government employees to whom the person in need is a complete stranger, and who have few or no ties to the community in which the needy person lives.
Both cases of aid involve a dependent relationship. However, support provided by families, churches, and other civil society groups aims to restore a person to full flourishing and personal responsibility, and, ultimately, to be able to aid another person in turn. This kind of reciprocal expectation does not characterize the dependent relationship with the political system. The former relationship is essential to the existence of civil society itself. The latter is usually based on one-sided aid without accountability for a person’s regained responsibility for self and toward his community. Indeed, the “success” of such government programs is frequently measured by the program’s growth rather than by whether it helps recipients to escape dependence. While the dependent relationship with civil society leads to a balance between the interests of the needy person and the community, the dependent relationship with the government runs the risk of generating political pressure from interest groups—such as health care organizations, nonprofit organizations, and the aid recipients themselves—to expand and cement federal support.
The Index points to two crucial steps the nation needs to take: We need to (a) reweave the fabric of civil society, strengthening and appreciating the ties that bind, rather than finding them restrictive and (b) REFORM ENTITLEMENTS!
At this point, it’s useless to debate whether the weakening of civil society led to increased government involvement or the other way around; it’s just time to rebuild a sense of community from the ground up. Here’s an idea: If you don’t already have this kind of relationship with your neighbors, offer to loan ’em an egg if they ever need one! I’m not joking. If we’re serious about not wanting the government to interfere in our lives, then we can’t afford to live in a bubble, oblivious to the needs of those around us. I know it gets old to contribute endlessly and you’re probably tired of it; you probably already do more than your part — plus pay taxes. But a little more can’t hurt! Mobility and technology make it all too easy to zone out; please don’t. As this Index makes clear, we’re already paying the price for our own negligence.