The corollaries of this American ethos were, on the one hand, an affinity for personal enterprise and industry and, on the other, a horror of dependency and contempt for anything that smacked of a mendicant mentality. Although many Americans in earlier times were poor, even people in fairly desperate circumstances were known to refuse help or handouts as an affront to their dignity and independence. People who subsisted on public resources were known as “paupers,” and provision for them was a local undertaking. Neither beneficiaries nor recipients held the condition of pauperism in high regard.
Overcoming America’s historic cultural resistance to government entitlements has been a long and formidable endeavor. But as we know today, this resistance did not ultimately prove an insurmountable obstacle to establishing mass public entitlements and normalizing the entitlement lifestyle. The U.S. is now on the verge of a symbolic threshold: the point at which more than half of all American households receive and accept transfer benefits from the government. From cradle to grave, a treasure chest of government-supplied benefits is there for the taking for every American citizen—and exercising one’s legal rights to these many blandishments is now part of the American way of life…
The prospect of careening along an unsustainable economic road is deeply disturbing. But another possibility is even more frightening—namely, that the present course may in fact be sustainable for far longer than most people today might imagine.
The U.S. is a very wealthy society. If it so chooses, it has vast resources to squander. And internationally, the dollar is still the world’s reserve currency; there remains great scope for financial abuse of that privilege.