U.S. stinginess begins at home


Keeping America out of the red (commie/pinko/welfare-state red) may bury us all.

I'm not much of a statistics guy, and I don't often trumpet NYTimes editorials, but there's some very simple numbers inside a short item in this morning's paper, and it deserves broader notice than it's likely to get.

Okay, the lead editorial with the sardonic headline, "Amateur Hour on Iran", is also worth a look, but here's an excerpt from the one I first spotted, "The Less-Than-Generous State":

The United States has long had one of the most meager tax takes in the industrial world. America’s social spending — on programs ranging from Medicare and Social Security to food stamps — is almost the stingiest among industrial nations. Among the 30 industrialized countries grouped in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, only four — Turkey, Mexico, South Korea and Ireland — spend less on social programs as a share of their economy.

Long a moral outrage, this tightfisted approach to public needs is becoming an economic handicap. Shortchanging public health impairs America’s competitiveness. If the United States is to reap the rewards of globalization, the government must provide a much more robust safety net — to ensure public support for an open economy and protect vulnerable workers.

Note that the four nations whose public systems are listed as even more selfish than our own are all known for the strength of their family structures - no adequate substitute for a less exclusive approach to conscience, and also not an attribute which individualistic Americans are known for sharing these days.

Hmmm. The richest country on earth, but with diddly-squat for the needy, ditto for the infrastructure, for the arts, for public health, for low-income housing, for public parks, for public transportation, for the elderly, for child care, for adequate public education or any number of the other functions which define a modern civil society; into whose pockets has our great wealth been flowing?

UPDATE: At the time I did this post I was unable to locate a complete image of Breugel's "Avarita", and I had to be content with the detail seen at the top. Today I found what I had been looking for, serendipitously. Tom Schreiber was visiting us and he had brought along a copy of Dover Publication's "Graphic Worlds of Peter Bruegel the Elder", and there it was. And here it is:

Pieter van der Heyden [after a drawing by Pieter Bruegel the Elder] Avaritia (Greed) 1558 engraving 9" x 11.5"

[1556 image ("Stinginess") by Pieter Bruegel the Elder from, and in an attribution by, cartage; second, full image from Metropolitan Museum]