And so it is that we need to renew our independence. More than 55 percent of Americans now receive some form of federal government benefit -- and many of us need to get off the dole.
I cite the findings of Richard Vedder, a professor emeritus of economics at Ohio University and an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
In The Wall Street Journal, Vedder argues that more Americans are not only becoming more dependent on government benefits, but that their dependence is adversely affecting the growth of our economy.
Consider: From the mid-17th century to the late 20th century, Vedder says, the American economy's growth averaged a robust 3.5 percent a year. Compare that to economic growth for the last quarter, which was revised down to 1.8 percent.
A key reason for the stumbling economy: Fewer able-bodied Americans are working because government programs give them incentive not to. Vedder offers four examples:
* Food stamps, now known officially as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Approximately 48 million Americans receive food stamps -- 30 million more than in the year 2000.
* Social Security Disability. This program was established for people with genuine needs, but its numbers are soaring. In 1990, 3 million Americans received such payments; today, there are nearly 11 million -- 6 million have been added since 2009 -- despite widely reported fraud and abuse.
* Pell Grants, which pay people to go to college instead of entering the work force. The concept sounds reasonable enough -- educate people so they get better jobs and pay more taxes -- but Vedder says nearly half of college graduates now work in jobs that require no college degree.
* Extended unemployment benefits. Vedder says that since the 1930s, unemployment insurance has been about lending a short-term hand to folks losing their jobs. But in the past four years, the traditional 26-week benefit has grown to a year or more -- peaking at up to 99 weeks in some states.
Vedder's argument makes sense. When government incentivizes people to stay home rather than seek work -- when it gives them the opportunity to avoid jobs where pay and conditions do not meet their expectations -- they will avoid work, and that will have a negative impact on the economy for all of us.
Which is why we need a renewed declaration of independence -- from our own government.
The American dream has long been about the freedom to pursue one's own passion and success -- not about being lured into the trap of getting by on a variety of federal and state programs.
And make no mistake, many more Americans are enjoying expensive government goodies -- grants and tax breaks for crony capitalists, health insurance provided to employees tax-free, low-interest mortgages and deductions for vacation homes backed by Uncle Sam, etc. -- than we like to admit, and these costs are killing us.
The American dream requires a robust economy that affords every American an opportunity to find meaningful work, but an undisciplined government carrying high debt and deficits stands in the way of a robust economy.
Heck, our government was formed to secure our unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- not to inhibit them.
If we have any hope of carrying on the American dream, we have to declare our independence from government all over again. We all have to get our hands out of the government cookie jar and scale back government goodies across the board.
I hope and pray that we have the will to get our affairs in order, so that younger generations may freely pursue their dreams, but I worry plenty these days.
And I wish you a happy Fourth of July.
TOM PURCEL is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
humor columnist and is nationally syndicated.