Little Enterprise, But Plenty of Free

America’s free enterprise system was built on enterprise. Now, all that’s left is “free.” Not free, as in the freedom to work hard and prosper, but “free,” as in free money, free time, free drugs and free entitlements.

But, of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch; when something is free for some, others have to pay for it. That would be middle-class taxpayers, of course. And yet they not only allow it to happen, they often encourage it by re-electing the same politicians and voting against real change.FF491_1

Much of the bill won’t go to today’s middle class. It will go to our children. Baby boomers, who are so into nurturing and providing the best for their kids, have stuck them and their grandchildren with a whopping bill.

Quoting Lacy Hunt, an economist with Hoisington Investment, The Wall Street Journal noted that debt in the U.S. now totals more than $69 trillion. It’s more than doubled since 2000, when Fed statisticians recorded the debt as being $30 trillion.

A doubling over more than 16 years may not seem so bad, but the economy hasn’t grown along with the debt. In 2000, debt was 294% of GDP. Today, it’s 370% of GDP. Debt will not improve the quality of life for your children as they grow and try to raise families.

Consider what’s happening.

Taxpayer vs. Non-taxpayer. Many people, especially on the left, like to point out the growing division between the rich and the poor. But there’s another more troubling divide – the division between the working and the non-working, or the taxpayer and the non-taxpayer.

A small percentage of Americans have become wealthy by working hard, making smart decisions, being lucky or marrying well. More power to them. The top 1% of American earners earned 19.04% of the country’s gross adjusted income, but paid 37.8% of income taxes in 2015, based on IRS statistics reported by the Tax Foundation. In other words, they are picking up part of the tab for the rest of us.

Then there is the half of the country that pays almost nothing. We are picking up the tab for them. And, since the tab is too big to pay today, we are going further and further into debt. Someday – when your children are grown and are raising families – the bill will come due.

Granted, some people need help. Whether they’re poor, disabled or temporarily down on their luck, we need to help them. But do you seriously think that half of the population of the wealthiest country in history can’t afford to chip in and pay their share of the tax bill? Is it possible that maybe some people are gaming the system?

Fewer people are working. Last week we quoted economist Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, who believes that America’s government-funded and government-mandated programs to help the unemployed and those with low income have created a “flight from work.”

He found that paid hours of work per adult civilian in the U.S. have dropped 12% since the millennium began, based on statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. From 1985 to 2000, total paid hours of work for the adult civilian population increased by 35%. In contrast, for the period from 1000 to 2015, total paid hours of work in America increased by just 4%, while the adult civilian population increased by almost 18%.

Least you consider Eberstadt to be some right-wing crank, you should know that the Pew Research Center has reached a similar conclusion. Pew reports that, “By far the biggest chunk of people not in the labor force are people who simply don’t want to be, according to data from the monthly Current Population Survey (which the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) uses to, among other things, calculate the unemployment rate). Last month, according to BLS, 85.9 million adults didn’t want a job now, or 93.3% of all adults not in the labor force.”

So today, with about 11.5% of men in the prime work ages of 24 to 54 neither employed nor looking for a job, you may wonder what they’re doing. The answer, in many cases, is that they are watching TV, playing video games, spending time on social media and taking drugs. And not necessarily in that order.

Taking drugs. Not long ago, opioid addiction was something distant from most of our lives. We all knew it existed, but it didn’t affect our children, our friends, our neighbors or our co-workers.

Today, opioid addiction is all around us. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., with 52,404 lethal drug overdoses in 2015. The figure includes 20,101 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers and 12,990 overdose deaths related to heroin.

The increase has been gradual, but the overdose death rate in 2008 was nearly four times the death rate in 1999.

A major reason for the opioid epidemic is an increase in prescriptions for painkillers. From 1999 to 2010, sales for prescription painkillers to hospitals, doctors and pharmacies quadrupled. By 2010, the number of pain medications prescribed was enough to keep every American medicated for a month.

Four out of five heroin users start by misusing prescription painkillers and, in a 2014 survey, 94% of respondents said they moved on to heroin because prescription opioids were “far more expensive and harder to obtain.”

But back to the non-working class. The president’s Council of Economic Advisers reported that about half of all working-age Americans without jobs are on some form of drug – either prescription or illegal.

Medicaid enrollees receive pain prescriptions at twice the rate of non-Medicaid patients.

In his book Dreamland, Sam Quinones writes that the Medicaid card pays for “whatever pills a doctor deems that the insured patient needs. … For a three-dollar Medicaid co-pay, therefore, addicts got pills priced at thousands of dollars, with the difference paid for by U.S. and state taxpayers. A user could turn around and sell those pills, obtained for that three-dollar co-pay, for as much as ten thousand dollars on the street.”

So why work?

And, by the way, if heroin isn’t enough of a problem, we now have fentanyl, the drug that killed Prince. Fentanyl is 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin.

Watching TV. Not all idle Americans are drug addicts, of course. Some are addicted to television, video games or social media.

The average American watches more than 35 hours of TV a week, which is practically the equivalent of a full-time job. Keep in mind that’s an average. If you’re working 60 hour weeks, you’re probably not watching much TV. But don’t worry … your work is making it possible for others to watch far more than the 35 hour average.

According to one study, unemployed adult Americans dedicate 2,000 hours to TV and the Internet a year.

“Young men without college degrees have replaced 75% of the time they used to spend working with time on the computer, mostly playing video games,” according to a study by the Council of Economic Advisors. “Pre-recession, young, unemployed, degree-less men played games for 3.4 hours per week. From 2011 to 2014, that group played 8.6 hours of games a week.”

For our children to have a better quality of life, or even to live as well as we do, America will need far more enterprise and far less free.

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