I recently watched a movie on slavery (The Free State of Jones). The basic argument against slavery was that everyone should get to keep what they produce. The bad people were those that got rich off of what their slaves produced.
This is one form of the old idea of trying to get Something for Nothing. In the distant past the only way to do this was by outright theft. You held up a bank or robbed people, maybe you were a pirate on the high seas, or, as in the case above, a slave holder. Unfortunately for us all, there are now a lot more ways, many of them subtle, to try and get Something for Nothing. But in every case, you can only get Something for Nothing by taking it away from somebody else.
I once read that an old saying about Democracy was that it works great, right up until the majority figures out they can vote themselves a “free lunch”. The “free lunch” being Something that they voted to get in return for nothing that they themselves have earned or produced. We are almost all complicit in doing this. If you vote, and I have to admit I have done it too, you have no doubt voted for someone who is committed to providing some sort of unearned benefit to those that voted for them.
But remember, to get the Something for Nothing, you have to take it from someone else. This may mean taking money from others in taxes. Or it could mean having the government borrow money to provide it, which takes the money from future generations. The point is that all of the benefits that we get have to come from someone. We may contribute part of what we get (through taxes or Social Security and Medicare deductions), but when we get more than a dollar (plus interest) for what we put in, we are indeed getting Something for Nothing.
It is not just the government. Most people are deep in debt. They are buying things they cannot afford. Most can barely afford to pay the interest on their debts. They have literally stolen from their future selves. And if they have any unforeseen expenses, they cannot pay, and have to borrow even more.
We might rationalize what we are doing. We could say that we had nothing to do with the creation of such programs, they were set up long ago, and there is nothing we can do about it. We could say that we are just trying to get our “piece of the pie”. We could say that we deserve it, for any number of reasons. But the truth is that we are trying to justify doing something that we know is wrong, theft.
We are at the point now where the so-called “Entitlement” programs are about to bankrupted us as a society. The government has borrowed so much money that it can never be repaid. Many individuals are in the same boat. The amount of debt, by governments and by individuals is staggering. In the USA, government debt is about $20 Trillion, while private debt is about $30 Trillion. These levels are only projected to increase, and at an increasingly rapid pace. And eventually it will be too much.
When it becomes too much, the unimaginable will happen. Unimaginable to us, because it is not part of our lifetime’s experience. Or even our grandparents’. At least during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the government had the ability to borrow to try and provide assistance. That won’t be the case this time, as the government will be as broke as anyone else.
What To Do
I fear that for our government, it may be too late. Even if so, we can try to reduce the magnitude of the disaster. We need to stop asking for Something for Nothing. We need to enact reforms to try and to reduce the pain we are all going to suffer when the financial day of reckoning comes.
We need to drastically reduce the size and scale of our Something for Nothing programs. We need to be willing to take back only what we have put in (plus maybe the interest). If not, we will all get Nothing. At the very time we most definitely will need at least Something.