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Are Americans Just Selfish?

Don't be greedy
Or can you?

Driving home last night, I caught the tail end of a discussion on NPR's marketplace. A budget expert was discussing the main paradox of America's budget crisis - voters are increasingly expecting more benefits from the government AND refusing to pay higher taxes. His argument was that the American people had essentially voted ourselves into this mess with the implication that it won't get better until we can let go of our demands either for increased social services OR lower taxes. I'd never heard the budget issue described in quite this way and it struck me with this question - are Americans just plain selfish? 

In many European countries, social services are legendary - public healthcare, incredible maternity and paternity leave, and job procurement assistance for the unemployed.  And in exchange for these services, taxpayers pay a HUGE chunk to their government. A fair trade? I think so - but then again I'm the kind of person who likes to simply ignore the line on my paycheck that shows my deductions. Hurts too much to look at it, right?

In some ways it feels like the American love for bargain hunting (some argue that we, the consumer, created a space for commercial behemoths like Walmart to abuse producers in the name of a good deal) could be behind all this. Get social security and medicaid and not pay taxes for it? Sounds like extreme couponing on an epic scale. And in some ways, that American ingenuity is pretty impressive. But we all know that, at least in this case, the savings won't last and the aftermath may be worse that we can imagine. 

Your politics will determine whether you think we should increase taxes to continue social services or leave taxes alone and become more stringent on the government dole-out. Either way you lean, we have to agree - we just can't have our cake and eat it too.

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