More destructive than any specific policy item modern Democrats are pushing this year are the ideas they use to justify their agenda.
The $3.5 trillion bill that President Joe Biden and Democrats are now attempting to cram through Congress via reconciliation is meant to create a European-style cradle-to-grave welfare state here in the United States. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the bill’s Senate author, has, for years, praised systems across the Atlantic, as have many other Democrats.
There are numerous specific arguments against the agenda that further expands an already onerous bureaucratic state, but it is the idea that traditional American life needs reimagining that should be rejected first. Because the most vociferous champions of the European-style governance are invariably the most passionate critics of the dynamism and glorious messiness of American life. The factors that propel our economic superiority — the unplanned and lightly regulated, individualistic, and seemingly disordered free markets — chafe against the technocratic sensibilities of Democrats. For them, even American exceptionalism, the idea that the United States occupies a unique position in world history, is ugly and plainly wrong.
So, they now perpetuate a corrosive culture of victimhood and dependence that already often permeates many European nations. And one of the most destructive untruths of the Europhile is his contention that the meritocracy doesn’t even exist. To convince people of this, he will fearmonger about growing poverty, the shrinking “middle class,” the rise of inequality, and the inability of Americans to achieve their dreams without the paternalistic help of technocrats. (I debunk many of these claims in my new book, “Eurotrash: Why America Must Reject the Failed Ideas of a Dying Continent”).
Americans have long touted the value of personal responsibility, though they have often been mocked by elites as hopelessly simplistic when they do. Yet, according to the World Values Survey, 70% of Americans still believe that the poor can escape poverty if they work hard enough — though you wouldn’t know it listening to today’s Democrats. Only 35% of Europeans share this view. Europeans also believe that the wealthy are undeserving of their riches — which, due to a lack of entrepreneurship, lots of regulations, and rent-seeking, they often are.
Wealthy Americans are far more likely to have earned their money. In one long-term study titled “Family, Education, and Sources of Wealth among the Richest Americans, 1982-2012,” economists Steven N. Kaplan and Joshua D. Rauh investigated the behaviors and backgrounds of the 400 wealthiest individuals in the United States over 30 years as reported by Forbes. They found that the share of the self-made wealthy had risen from 40% in 1982 to 69% by 2011. Similarly, an analysis by finance researchers for the libertarian Cato Journal determined that half of the wealth in the Forbes 400 has been “newly created in one generation.”
What Democrats refuse to acknowledge are the trade-offs that accompany their utopianism. They either ignore or dismiss the economic downsides of dependency, and they dismiss the numerous core freedoms, both individual and communal, that are lost when living under the bureaucratic thumb of a monolithic, centralized, soul-sucking enterprise like the European Union.
The all-encompassing welfare system progressives champion is reliant on transfer programs that pose moral hazards for society. As the money and benefits of redistribution become more generous, increasing numbers of citizens are incentivized to set aside their traditionally strong work ethic and rely on the state. We see this today, as the largest number of people who have left the workforce during COVID-19 and not returned — despite the availability of jobs — are those making more money from unemployment benefits than their former job.
No one should dismiss the inherent unfairness that sometimes exists in any system, but a society that values and incentivizes personal self-determination also creates a strong work ethic, a strong sense of fairness, and more opportunity. If we follow Europe, we are in danger of losing those attributes.
David Harsanyi is a senior writer at National Review.
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