George Will Discusses Debt, Education and Immigration in Salt Lake City

Political pundit George Will says the biggest problem driving American politics today is the ballooning national debt, but he doesn’t lay the blame at the feet of either party.

Will argues both parties in Washington have a permanent incentive to continue deficit spending because that’s what their constituents demand.

“The reason for the current discord in Washington is consensus,” said the Pulitzer Prize winning author. “The consensus that threatens us is that we should have an omnipresent welfare state. The American people are ideologically conservative, but operationally liberal. We have a decadent democracy. In the past, we borrowed for the future, now we borrow from the future.”

Will spoke in downtown Salt Lake City Thursday afternoon at an invite-only event sponsored by Zions Bank. He said Americans are becoming more and more dependent on the government, which has caused the “most predictable crisis in our nation’s history.”

“There is a deliberate agenda in Washington to de-stigmatize dependency, to reconcile Americans to be wards of government. Americans are becoming either employees or clients of government. That suppresses the energy of the private sector and government has to raise taxes to make up the difference. It’s the death-spiral of the welfare state.”

Will also pointed out that better healthcare and longer lifespans are contributing to the problem as well.

“Fixing Social Security is the simplest thing,” said Will, arguing that if they indexed the retirement age to life expectancy, the program would not be facing a deficit. “It would be simple to fix, but politically impossible.”

But, he said these things don’t explain the high temperature of today’s politics. Rather, he said the stakes are uncommonly high right now.

“We’re arguing about fundamentals. Freedom vs. equality. Liberals stress equality, especially in outcome. That will make Americans more equal in their dependency on the government. Conservatives stress freedom, which means we are content to have a wider disparity on outcomes. So, the question is, do you want a government centered society or a market centered society.”

Will’s wide-ranging talk also touched on education, which he said was a perennial debate in government, and immigration.

“What are we going to do with the people who are here illegally? We can’t expel them. Americans would not put up with the police measures it would take to force these people out. I did the math. In order to deport 11 ½ million people, it would take a line of buses from San Diego to Alaska. We need more generosity from the American people. I look at immigrants and see assets. They come here, start businesses and make the country move.”

Finally, in response to a question about what book every American could read, Will gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to the Federalist Papers.

“Government is supposed to be hard. The Framers did not devise an efficient government. They made it hard to move the government. I can think of nothing the American people wanted and fought for that they didn’t get. I can’t stand these crybabies who whine that they can’t get their agenda passed. It’s supposed to be hard. Get to work.”