Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Reagan said who's paying the bill

I neglected to post a comment celebrating the 25th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's election, but this fits with it. I recently finished reading an interesting collection of RR's radio addresses and miscellaneous other writings called Reagan In His Own Hand. In one of them dated November 1976, he tallied the number of federal government employees (civilian as well as military), federal retirees, families of both, as well as Social Security and welfare recipients and other people depending on government assistance.

He then compared them to the number of private wage earners in the workforce, adding their families to the government dependent group. He makes the point that since the government doesn't produce anything on its own, only absorbs or redistributes the fruit of private people's labors, that pool of private earners supports everyone else. I don't have the numbers at my fingertips this morning but it was something like 60 million earners supporting 180 million others. It was an eye-opener.

To make this observation is not to criticize those paid by "the government" in some fashion. We need some level of government, we need the military and certain other indispensable services, and those employees are justified to expect a pension at the end of their service. Likewise, if you accept a governmental role in charitable endeavor -- certainly debatable, but leave it for now -- there are those who ought to be considered reasonable recipients of welfare programs. And certainly, even if there were no government tomorrow, my work is still supporting eight other people just in my own family. But the recognition of that crucial ratio points out that the pool of taxable income earners is finite and relatively small, and squeezing that goose in a vise does not accelerate the delivery of golden eggs. Eventually the goose dies or escapes.

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