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Sunday, November 25, 2012
The Big Lie About The "Entitlement State"
In 1960, government transfers to individuals totaled $24 billion. By 2010, that total was 100 times as large. Even after adjusting for inflation, entitlement transfers to individuals have grown by more than 700 percent over the last 50 years. ... There are sensible conclusions to be drawn from these facts. You could say that the entitlement state is growing at an unsustainable rate and will bankrupt the country.
—David Brooks, “Thurston Howell Romney,” New York Times, September 17, 2012
Is the view that “entitlements”—government programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—“will bankrupt the country” a “sensible conclusion”? No. It’s scare-mongering of the “OH MYGOD WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!” variety, completely unjustified by a sober look at data on government transfer payments between 1960 and 2010.
New York Times columnist David Brooks starts the passage on entitlements in his September 17 column by noting that total government transfer payments have increased by an alarming-sounding 100 times over the last half-century. In the next sentence, he acknowledges that this figure is not adjusted for inflation. (Nor for population growth.) As it turns out, the “100 times” mostly reflects the increase in the general price level (more than seven-fold between 1960 and 2010) and the growth of the U.S. resident population (not quite doubled), not the growth in transfer programs specifically. Correcting for these factors, Brooks admits, the increase is just “700 percent.” One can only guess that he switched to percentage terms because he’s trying to sound scary, and “700 percent” sounds far scarier than “seven times.” (Brooks actually describes this figure simply as “after adjusting for inflation,” but it appears that he actually adjusted for both inflation and population growth.)