Eberstadt’s essay, “American Exceptionalism and the Entitlement State,” argues that this state is extinguishing the former. America “arrived late to the 20th century’s entitlement party.” The welfare state’s European pedigree traces from post-1945 Britain, back through Sweden’s interwar “social democracy,” to Bismarck’s late-19th-century social insurance. European welfare states reflected European beliefs about poverty: Rigid class structures rooted in a feudal past meant meager opportunities for upward mobility based on merit. People were thought to be stuck in neediness through no fault of their own, and welfare states would reconcile people to intractable social structures.
Eberstadt notes that the structure of U.S. government spending “has been completely overturned within living memory,” resulting in the “remolding of daily life for ordinary Americans under the shadow of the entitlement state.” In two generations, the American family budget has been recast: In 1963, entitlement transfers were less than $1 out of every $15; by 2012, they were more than $1 out of every $6.
Causation works both ways between the rapid increase in family disintegration (from 1964 to 2012, the percentage of children born to unmarried women increased from 7 to 41) and the fact that, Eberstadt says, for many women, children and even working-age men, “the entitlement state is now the breadwinner of the household.” In the past 50 years, the fraction of civilian men ages 25 to 34 who were neither working nor looking for work approximately quadrupled.