One wit recently claimed that America is an insurance company with an army. While this is not completely accurate, it does nicely present our large expenditures: defense and entitlements.
Our defense expenditures are clearly rather excessive. Not only do we spend more than any other nation, we spend more than the next few nations combined. As such, unless we are planning to fight the world, then we can probably trim back a bit. At the very least, we should get the countries we defend to pick up more of the tab. Otherwise, they are just receiving fate entitlements from the United States.
Some defense contractors also receive what might be considered entitlements: being paid far too well for contracts that are rather questionable in nature.
Of course, when people think of entitlements, they tend to think of things like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. In general, politicians have been loath to mess with these. After all, they are jealously guarded by a very strong lobby and almost everyone (even Tea Party loyalists) want the government to keep its hands off these sweet, sweet benefits.
While I am in favor of helping out folks who deserve help, these entitlements are often pouring money towards folks who do not, in fact, need it. Of course, it can be legitimately argued that since people pay into the system, they are entitled to get back what they put in. Of course, this view would mean that the people who would need it least would get the most and those who need it the most would receive little or nothing.
If we see these services as “pay in and get back”, then we should dispense with them in favor of private services that offer better returns. However, if they are to be social safety nets, then they should be changed so that the benefits go to those who need them and so that those who need them less receive less. Those who do not need them at all should, of course, not receive anything.
While I would certainly like to get my money back when I retire, I would be willing to forgo this if my own retirement plan (a big part of which is retiring with everything paid off and a substantial financial reserve) turns out to be adequate. After all, I am willing to contribute to the general good-even if this means that I have to do without what I do not actually need, though might be “owed.”