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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Unlearned lessons

It's clear why we're continuing to grow government until we match the European model. It's worked out so well there:

COPENHAGEN — It began as a stunt intended to prove that hardship and poverty still existed in this small, wealthy country, but it backfired badly. Visit a single mother of two on welfare, a liberal member of Parliament goaded a skeptical political opponent, see for yourself how hard it is.

It turned out, however, that life on welfare was not so hard. The 36-year-old single mother, given the pseudonym “Carina” in the news media, had more money to spend than many of the country’s full-time workers. All told, she was getting about $2,700 a month, and she had been on welfare since she was 16.

In past years, Danes might have shrugged off the case, finding Carina more pitiable than anything else. But even before her story was in the headlines 16 months ago, they were deeply engaged in a debate about whether their beloved welfare state, perhaps Europe’s most generous, had become too rich, undermining the country’s work ethic. Carina helped tip the scales.

[. . .]

But few experts here believe that Denmark can long afford the current perks. So Denmark is retooling itself, tinkering with corporate tax rates, considering new public sector investments and, for the long term, trying to wean more people — the young and the old — off government benefits.

“In the past, people never asked for help unless they needed it,” said Karen Haekkerup, the minister of social affairs and integration, who has been outspoken on the subject. “My grandmother was offered a pension and she was offended. She did not need it.

“But now people do not have that mentality. They think of these benefits as their rights. The rights have just expanded and expanded. And it has brought us a good quality of life. But now we need to go back to the rights and the duties. We all have to contribute.”

One of the anticipated benefits of our federalist system was that states, with broader, less defined powers than the federal government, would be free to experiment and innovate in dealing with their problems and potentials. Mistakes would be made, but that was OK -- that's how we learn. If one state goofed, all the other states would know what not to do. But as more and more power was assumed by the federal government, I think we lost that capacity to learn from watching the wrong paths taken by others. Never mind what Kentucky or Indiana or Ohio wants to do. The federal government will tell them all exactly what to do, and if it turns out to be a bad idea, well, what can you do?

Probably about the time Europe starts climbing out of the redistributionist hole it's dug for itself, we'll still be looking for more shovels so we can go deeper.