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Are Americans the Takers or the Taken?

Through his concise analysis of a massive amount of data on entitlement expenditures or “transfers” in America over the past 50 years, Nicholas Eberstadt’s “Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic” connects the nation’s growing dependence on government programs to negative changes in the character of both our government and our citizens. If Eberstadt’s data on the explosion of welfare weren’t arresting enough, Yuval Levin’s thoughtful response to Eberstadt certainly is. Levin is the editor of National Affairs, and he suggests that the roots of the welfare epidemic are even deeper than Eberstadt supposes. Levin’s piece highlights the recent development of a “thin view of American life revealed in the left’s critique of the right: a view that sees in our society only individuals and the government, and that neither discerns nor wants much of the consequences in the space between the two.” As we Americans continue to take our entitlements, we perpetuate the welfare behemoth that continues to crowd out the space between individuals and government where the majority of American life used to take place. The society that once flourished in the breath between individuals and government is threatened, and with it, so goes the culture that shapes Americans into a people capable of self-government. If this is true, then our dependence on (and perpetuation of) an increasingly sluggish, ineffectual welfare state is robbing us of a part of the rich landscape of our freedom: the space where there is neither radical individualism nor mandated unity through government, but rather a willing acknowledgment of our interdependence and association by choice. If Americans are willing to trade this space for an unsustainable system of handouts, we are not a nation of takers; we are the taken.