Writing in The Wall Street Journal on Friday, Stephen Moore argued that the United States has become a nation of takers. He explained that there are twice as many people earning a salary from government than those working in manufacturing. "It gets worse," he wrote. "More Americans work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining and utilities combined. We have moved decisively from a nation of makers to a nation of takers."
Takers of what, I ask. Money, of course. But there's more at stake.
Moore's article is about the struggle that states like Michigan are having due to swollen government payrolls and a drop in private sector tax-generating jobs. Moore argues that U.S. manufacturing has declined as government has taken money from the manufacturing sector and transferred it to a rapidly growing government labor force. He notes that Michigan and my state, Pennsylvania, the former auto and steel capitals of the world respectively, "have more government bureaucrats than people making things." Pittsburgh's 64-story U.S. Steel Building is a sign of the times-it bears the logo of a local healthcare company. Can we anticipate a day when the Steelers' iconic helmets feature a scalpel?
Lew Uhler-who chaired Ronald Reagan's Tax Reduction Tax Force during Reagan's tenure as governor of California-has argued for years that the optimum size of combined federal, state, and local government spending is 20 percent of gross domestic product. Today it's a growth-killing 33 percent, he notes in his co-authored book Red State Uprising. Note that U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan's controversial budget proposal reduces federal spending alone to 20 percent of GDP, which is far too much by Uhler's standard.
With all the talk about spending, we're overlooking a far more important issue-freedom. Several years ago, Uhler made this point to me emphatically over dinner in Washington. When government grows beyond its optimum limit, he explained, it chokes our freedom by taking too much of our private property, our money, to fund programs that exceed government's rightful boundaries while trampling American rights and values.
Stephen Moore is right, and so is Lew Uhler-we've become a nation of takers. Freedom takers.