An alternative to popular faith

Today, the Wall Street Journal’s editors managed to pack one sentence with more misleading inferences than I thought possible. The sentence was: “Greece’s problems are familiar across Europe: a welfare-entitlement state that is unaffordable given the country’s anemic economic growth.

First, Greece’s economic problems are familiar across Europe, because most of Europe is in the European Union, an ill-conceived, economically doomed arrangement. These nations have essentially the same problem, and it has nothing to do with a welfare-entitlement state. It has to do with each EU nation’s inability to control its own money supply — a charter requirement for belonging to the EU. So when one nation encounters its individual economic crisis, it is prohibited from creating the money necessary to save and rebuild its economy.

The EU nations are on a “euro standard,” similar to a gold standard, in that the supply of their money is controlled by the EU. In this, the EU nations resemble California, Illinois, Cook County and Chicago, which are on a “dollar standard.” None can create the money needed to rebuild its economy.

Because a political entity on a “standard” cannot arbitrarily create money, it eventually will need to receive money from outside, either in the form of export payments, or payments from the owner of the money. For Greece, the owner is the EU. For California et al, the owner is the U.S. government.

For Greece to survive, it must receive money from the EU. It cannot survive on taxes alone, because taxing does not add money to the state. California, to survive, must receive money from the federal government.

The so called “welfare-entitlement” state merely is description of what every nation is and must be: A source of funds for the common good. Since all countries are “welfare-entitlement states, to greater or lesser degree, at what point does the state offer too much welfare?

–When the government pays for its army?
–When the government pays for roads, bridges, levees and docks?
–When the government pays for police and fire protection?
–When the government pays unemployment benefits? Food stamps? Medicaid? Housing?
–When the government pays for primary education? Secondary education? Advanced education?
–When the government pays to rebuild parts of a city that has flooded or hit by a hurricane or volcano?
–When the government provides FDIC insurance?
–When Social Security and Medicare benefits are provided to people over the age of 95? 55? 35? 10? All?
–When the government pays for vaccines? Inspects food? Supervises investments? Makes medical expenses tax deductible? Creates and enforces laws?

Where should a welfare entitlement state begin and end? I’d guess the WSJ editors, who criticize the “welfare-entitlement” state, have no idea. But, the term makes for a handy whipping boy, like “socialism” and “bailouts” and “big government” and “activist judges,” that everyone dislikes in general, but wants in the specific.

Finally, the “welfare-entitlement” state is not unaffordable because of the nation’s anemic economic growth. The government doesn’t pay its bills with Gross Domestic Product. Of course, some argue that increased GDP growth begets increased taxes, making government spending more affordable. But high taxes cause anemic economic growth, so in essence you have a circular argument and a self-fulfilling prophesy.

What makes EU governments’ spending unaffordable is the EU system, which prevents unilateral money creation. By contrast, no amount of U.S. spending is unaffordable for the U.S. government.

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

No nation can tax itself into prosperity