Wall Street Journal, March 22, 2006.
This much is certain: The welfare state as we know it cannot survive. No serious student of entitlements thinks that we can let federal spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid rise from its current 9% of GDP to the 28% of GDP that it will consume in 2050 if past growth rates continue. The problems facing transfer programs for the poor are less dramatic but, in the long term, no less daunting; the falling value of a strong back and the rising value of brains will eventually create a class society making a mockery of America’s ideals unless we come up with something more creative than anything that the current welfare system has to offer.
So major change is inevitable — and Congress seems utterly unwilling to face up to it. Witness the Social Security debate of last year, a case study in political timidity. Like it or not, we have several years to think before Congress can no longer postpone action. Let’s use it to start thinking outside the narrow proposals for benefit cuts and tax increases that will be Congress’s path of least resistance.