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A Greek Tragedy: Ending the Entitlement Mentality

Some are calling the financial crisis in Greece a Greek tragedy. Well, in ancient Athens, Greek tragedies are well-known; the strong central character suffered some self-inflicted misfortune, usually the result of his hubris, or pride.

What’s going on in Greece today may not be the result of pride, but it is certainly self-inflicted and definitely tragic. Greek debt is 152 percent of the nation’s annual gross domestic product. That kind of wild spending is insane.

And now the Greek government is between a rock and a hard place. Their creditors are demanding drastic spending cuts. Meanwhile, the Greek populace has gone nuts, rioting in the streets over cuts to their extensive social programs. And in this financially interconnected world of ours, the economic collapse of a country the size of Alabama threatens to hurl the global economy into chaos.

Not a pretty picture! Could such a Greek tragedy ever be played out in the United States? Yes -- it can be, it will be if we can’t summon the political and national courage to cut the deficit and cut it now.  But such courage is hard to find in Washington these days.

This week, the congressional supercommittee must release its plan to cut $1.2 trillion from the budget over the next 10 years. If the committee fails, it will trigger automatic cuts divided between domestic and defense spending. And already we’re hearing talk of congressional leaders plotting ways to undo the automatic cuts. This is pure political cowardice.

Folks, this is the easy part. That $1.2 trillion in cuts is just the down payment on more cuts to come to bring our fiscal house into order. And as Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson of the presidential commission on deficit reduction have said, we are facing “the most predictable economic crisis in history.”

If a group of congressmen can’t make cuts that are absolutely necessary, we have to wonder whether we have lost the capacity for self-government.

The truth is that our leaders are afraid to tell us the truth: We can’t continue to spend money the way we are doing without going broke. We have to cut our programs, including and especially entitlements.

But that’s the message Americans don’t want to hear. Beginning in the 1960s, we started believing that the government had an endless supply of cash — and the responsibility to give us whatever we wanted. The American people, American politicians, and maybe our entire system have become captive to the entitlement mentality.

Just last week the American Association of Retired Persons had a press conference and challenged the super committee: AARP will not accept any cuts to Social Security or Medicare. Members were screaming at the cameras. Folks, this is Greece right here! Even if we taxed everyone at 80 percent we couldn’t keep paying for Medicare and Social Security the way they’re going.

We’ve got to face reality. And you should be telling your representatives we can’t go on this way. We have to cut entitlements, and the supercommittee had better not come out from behind closed doors empty handed.

If we can’t learn from what’s going on today in Greece, then we are indeed in the middle of a tragedy of our own making. And heaven help us, because it will mean we can’t help ourselves.

Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media and print.

Publication date: November 21, 2011

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