Reason contributing editor Brink Lindsey has some wise and hopeful thoughts over at the Cato blog about how the age of out-of-control entitlements can, will, and must come to an end. An excerpt:
The nineties offered what in retrospect were optimal conditions for restructuring America's entitlement commitments and thereby winning huge victories for good policy and limited government. But…since when did countries ever make major systemic reforms at the optimal time? Over the past generation, we have seen bold moves around the world to unwind overreaching government and install more market-friendly policies. And almost without exception, those moves have occurred, not when favorable conditions permitted sweeping changes with a minimum of short-term pain and dislocation, but when countries had their backs against the wall…..
So while it's disappointing, it's not terribly surprising that we have thus far failed to face up to the fiscal unsustainability of our existing entitlement commitments. We have opted for delay because delay has been the path of least resistance, but it will not remain so indefinitely. At some point, the day of reckoning will arrive, and we will face an unavoidable choice: pay to keep the promises we have made with huge tax increases, or repudiate those promises and restructure the programs that made them. It is entirely possible that, when the time comes, we will end up choosing something much closer to the former than the latter……But I don't think it's inevitable. Indeed, there are sound, non-wishful-thinking reasons for believing that the limited-government side has a fighting chance.
He goes on to detail those reasons–in very quick summation, that we have been successful in keeping government spending as share of GDP relatively stable, and other countries, and ourselves, have succeeded politically in backing down on existing entitlement promises–but you should read the whole thing.