BY: B. Keith Plunkett @Keithplunkett
Entitlements are killing our country, and Mississippi is a big part of the problem. The sooner we get a grasp on that fact the better.
When Mitt Romney was caught on video talking about the 47% that would never vote for him because they believe in government handouts it was a major political flub, and a poorly delivered one at that. It was the exclamation point of a campaign that will go down as one of the worst organized political communication jobs in the history of presidential politics. However, it was also a brief moment of honesty. That honesty was a bit too much for most to handle, which is why it has brought the Romney campaign to its knees. The American people got a look in the mirror, and as we often do, the messenger is the first one to go. In this case, that’s Romney.
Romney’s statement is a moment of honesty that speaks primarily to his own political aspirations, and lack of confidence in the American people. It’s pretty obvious he wasn’t trying to inspire with such a statement. But we as citizens, Republican and Democrat alike, still need to look deeper into that mirror, much deeper.
Merriam-Webster defines the word Entitlement as:
1. a right to benefits specified especially by law or contract
2. a government program providing benefits to members of a specified group; also : funds supporting or distributed by such a program
3. belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges
First, a right to benefits specified by contract implies an agreement. A contract at it’s broadest definition is the exchange of services or goods. “You give me this, and I’ll give you that.” It’s what every business arrangement is based upon.
The second definition is the idea that you get something just for being you. Because, you fit into a “special” group. No need in providing any real substantial service or goods in exchange. Just apply as a member of the “group”. Maybe you belong to some group that has been deemed “oppressed” or slighted by some moment in history. This definition says you get a reward for that. It doesn’t matter if it comes at the expense of others who may or may not have had anything to do with the oppression, or in some cases even if you yourself weren’t part of the oppression. You get a hand out anyway. You’re “special”.
Finally is the belief in ones own privilege or worth. You can fit rich little snots like Paris Hilton and most of Hollywood into this category, as well as the elitists blue bloods who have money and prestige for seemingly no other reason than the fact that they have money and prestige. Also fitting into this category would be the “political class” and subsidized industry. It’s all about who you know. These are some of the folks Romney was speaking to when caught on tape in Boca Raton, Florida.
A brief look at the three definitions shows that the word “entitlement” encompasses a broad range indeed. Unfortunately, what we are seeing more of is the second two definitions and less of the first, the ramifications of which is slowly and painfully suffocating our economy.
What’s even more telling of how far we have slipped is that within the last two definitions you will likely find an example that fits someone you know personally.
Mississippi is a welfare state, but not in the truest sense of the word. The most basic definition of a welfare state is one that provides equitable redistribution from within it’s own citizenry. Mississippi doesn’t depend on Mississippi. Mississippi depends on the federal government. When it comes to these United States, Mississippi is like the drunk cousin of the family that won’t get a job and keeps showing up for liquor money.
We like to talk about the principles of conservatism, but let’s be honest: Mississippi’s dependence is part of what is wrong with America. We don’t live within our means, because we have lost the drive to innovate and produce our own. We have allowed–even encouraged–our elected leaders to keep creating and tapping into programs and to keep providing so we don’t have to. We have lost the ability as a whole to take conditions and create value from them, the very essence of entrepreneurship. And, we keep looking for someone else to blame for it.
In a recent article, Bill Crawford writes of Mississippi cities and counties dealing with the shortfall of money due to less economic activity in their jurisdictions. He worries that pushes at the federal level to reduce transfer payments and cut social welfare spending will further damage chances at economic recovery in our state.
In 2010, transfer payments made up 26% of total personal income in Mississippi, but in poorer, rural counties like Noxubee and Kemper, transfer payments were 40% of the total.
Early next year, if not sooner, funding for these programs will begin to decrease. For the past year the House and Senate have been squabbling over extended unemployment benefits and food stamps. The budget “sequestration” act passed by our gridlocked, dysfunctional Congress will implement serious cuts for all these safety net programs effective in January. Any last minute deal to avoid sequestration will include safety net cuts too.
Such cuts will result in less money coming into Mississippi communities, particularly poorer, rural communities. Less money in circulation in local economies causes local businesses to struggle, bankruptcies to increase, and sparks lay-offs and other economic disruptions.
Crawford is right that the reductions will cause disruption. But, only disruption will lead to real recovery, and what we need is recovery. Let’s remember the transfer payment money is still money taken from taxpayers by government and redistributed. Social benefit transfer payments are in essence a “something for nothing check”. Meaning, there is nothing produced. So, how could they be a source of real economic recovery? They can’t. They aren’t. They are just more federal government anesthesia when we should be forced to deal with the pain.
Furthermore, we need to come to grips with the fact that entitlements are not just “welfare queens”, WIC programs, and food stamps. Entitlements are also farm subsidies, and the latest federal grant awarded with the help of our Congressman or Senator in D.C.
Government programs that are created to “foster growth” can be, and often are, just another way for someone to receive an entitlement check. The only real way for government to foster growth is to get out of the way and let citizens create it and, if unsuccessful, fail at the attempt and try again.
Ours is a society that has become enamored with the production of wealth, far more than the production of innovations and goods and services. What we fail to realize is one can’t truly create wealth without innovation. Our people are far too interested in who is getting wealthy and how, instead of how they themselves can create a service to others using their own talents and circumstances. That is why we fall short, and why the amount of transfer payments from the federal government has more than doubled in twenty years. The answer to economic woes is increasingly becoming “more government intervention in the marketplace.” The only thing that government brings in the end is more government.
A look at the amount of federal dollars spent versus the amount paid to the federal government in taxes by Mississippi over the past twenty years shows that we have received in excess of 250% more than we produced in annual GDP. When it comes to redistribution of wealth, we are the third top beneficiary behind Puerto Rico and New Mexico.
It is a problem that only gets more dire with each recession. Local governments have no money to provide basic services, because people have no money to spend without the government providing it. But, the government must first take it from someone else before they can hand it out.
The old saying goes, “if you want more of something you subsidize it, if you want less of something you tax it.”
It seems to be holding true. What’s being subsidized is failure, the support of a growing number who don’t care to plan for their own future because they don’t have to, and industry that produces whatever it takes to receive those subsidies. What’s being taxed and lost is prosperity, the fruits of our own labor and the strength and independence such a system provides.
Mississippi is not just a red state, it’s an in-the-red state. But, only Mississippians can turn that around. More handouts exacerbate the problem, whether they be transfer payments, government subsidies, or federal grants.
It’s time–no, it’s past time–to begin caring enough to want to stand on our own two feet, individually and as a state. To get there we must make a habit of regularly looking in the mirror and then make the changes to reduce government dependency in all its forms until we begin to like what we see.
About Keith: Keith Plunkett has worked on communications issues with a range of public officials from aldermen to Congressmen, and a variety of businesses, governmental agencies and non-profits. He serves or has served as a board member of several non-profit, civic and political organizations. Contact him by going to HorizonMediaMarketing.com or follow him on Twitter @Keithplunkett