THE RETURN OF THRIFT: How the Collapse of the Middle-Class Welfare State Will Reawaken Values in America by Phillip Longman

THE RETURN OF THRIFT: How the Collapse of the Middle-Class Welfare State Will Reawaken Values in America

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An unsparing and unnerving audit of the cost of so-called entitlements, which makes the talking points of Washington's long-running debate on balancing the federal budget appear all but irrelevant. At the outset, Longman (Born to Pay, 1987) stresses that the poor get only a small fraction of the $1.1 trillion the US government disburses each year in transfer payments. He shows that most such monies flow to comparatively affluent individuals through Social Security, Medicaid, civil service or military pension, and allied benefit programs for veterans of the armed forces. The toll is appreciably greater, the author notes, when allowance is made for subsidies (e.g., to farmers) and corporate and personal loopholes in the Internal Revenue Code, such as those permitting home buyers to deduct the cost of mortgage interest on their returns. Following an informative rundown on how entitlements become fixtures of the middle-class lifestyle, Longman calculates the present and future price of these programs in some detail. Along his unrelenting way, he also concludes that America can't afford to keep making such outlays. Only a handful of agencies have funded their pension liabilities, the author points out; most (including the Social Security system) are engaged in Ponzi schemes that depend on the US Treasury to pay retirees from current revenues. With the gravy train nearing the end of the line, he predicts the spendthrift US populace will adjust in ways that could work to the advantage of the country, for example, by becoming more self-reliant and strengthening family ties. To lessen the aging's claims on the young as well as to encourage higher savings rates in the meantime. Longman proposes some modest reforms. Cases in point include calibrated givebacks, limits on special-interest tax deductions, and means tests. An evenhanded inquiry into the wealth of a nation, whose findings the American electorate ignores at its economic peril.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Free Press