Guest Editorial

mencken's ghostBY MENCKEN'S GHOST  |  MARCH 9, 2011

Latest poll:  Americans clueless and unethical

The findings of the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll show that most Americans are clueless and unethical. 

Let’s begin with the clueless:
When asked if it will be necessary to cut Medicare and Social Security significantly to reduce the deficit, about eight of 10 respondents either said that they didn’t know or that it will not be necessary.   

They said this in spite of thousands of news stories and exhaustive studies from hundreds of sources showing that significant cuts in Medicare and Social Security are necessary.

Eight out of 10 Americans probably know what Charlie Sheen did last night but are apparently unaware of the following:

- that 41 percent of federal spending goes to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid;

- that an additional 17 percent of federal spending goes to other entitlements;

- that unfunded liabilities total $7.9 trillion for Social Security, $22.8 trillion for Medicare, and $35.3 trillion for Medicaid; and

- that spending on Medicare and Medicaid alone will consume all federal revenue by 2080 if left unchecked. 

Let’s turn to the unethical:
More than 60 percent of respondents support reducing Social Security and Medicare payments to the “wealthy,” a word that is not defined. 

However it is defined, the definition eventually will be expanded to include those who were foolish enough to accumulate sizable savings over a lifetime by living below their means. 

Those who did the opposite and lived beyond their means will elect hoodlums to take the savings of the frugal to fund their entitlements and other stuff they get from the munificent government.  In reality, the frugal will pay for all of the big TVs, big ATVs, big SUVs, Big Gulps, Big Macs, big KFC buckets, and big lattes, er, grande lattes, consumed over a lifetime by big spenders with big butts.

Speaking of big butts, 30 percent of Americans are obese, and a majority of Americans are overweight.  They end up with chronic illnesses in old age and incur hundreds of billions in medical expenses from overeating. 

What political philosophy and theory of social justice can possibly justify spendthrifts and the gluttonous expropriating the money of the frugal and non-gluttonous?  Even Marxism doesn’t explain it, because much of the taking occurs within the working class and not between the working class and the capital class.  The fact is that working stiffs who live beyond their means take from fellow working stiffs who live beneath their means.

Maybe movie producer/director Michael Moore, the supposed friend of the working class, can answer the question.  He recently said that the country is not bankrupt and has plenty of cash lying around that should be taken to pay off the national debt.  He was referring to people’s lifetime savings.  Unfortunately, his thinking is not unique.  Most Democrat politicians and many Republican politicians think the same way. 

Here is the root problem:  In 1970, Americans had an average personal savings rate of 9 percent and received only 3 percent of their income in entitlements.  Thirty-five years later, the personal savings rate had plummeted to less than 1 percent and entitlement income had skyrocketed to 16 percent.  This suggests that entitlements have driven out savings.

A related problem:  Over 35 percent of the population now receives an entitlement.   This astonishing statistic is due to a two-fold increase over the last 40 years in the number of people receiving old-age benefits and a ten-fold increase in the number of people receiving disability benefits and benefits based on income.

According to a study of mine, over 60 percent of voters now live in a household where a breadwinner either works for the government, or works in a private-sector job that wouldn’t exist if it were not for government regulations, or receives an entitlement or subsidy, or is exempted from paying income taxes.  The nation is past the tipping point, in other words.  So many people are dependent on a government rice bowl that they will steal the rice of rice producers until there is no more rice.

I’m ashamed to be an American.

“Mencken’s Ghost” is the nom de plume of an Arizona writer who can be reached at