Columnist Will Critical of 'Welfare State' in LeMieux Center Event


Columnist George Will Addresses the President's Lyceum in the Palm Beach Atlantic University. PBA/PBAU is a private, Christ-first college in West Palm Beach, Florida, USA.
Columnist George Will addresses the President's Lyceum in PBA's Warren Library. The Lyceum is made up of Honors Students.
Watch Will's Presentation

Washington Post columnist and Fox News commentator George Will said Wednesday the real problem in the nation’s capital isn’t only the much-maligned political discord.

“It’s as broad as the republic and as deep as the Grand Canyon, and it is this: Everyone is agreed that we should have a large, generous welfare state and not pay for it,” said Will, speaking in the DeSantis Family Chapel at the invitation of Palm Beach Atlantic University’s LeMieux Center for Public Policy.

The son of a philosophy professor and for a short time a college lecturer himself, Will said he was delighted to be back on a college campus. At PBA, the Pulitzer Prize recipient gave a public talk about serious issues the country faces, followed by a question-and-answer session with retired U.S. Sen. George LeMieux. Prior to the public lecture, he met with a small group of students as part of PBA’s President’s Lyceum.

Among the topics Will took on was the national debt.

“The problem, ladies and gentlemen, is that the political class has a permanent incentive for deficit spending,” he said. “I think the political class in Washington is more united by class interest than it is divided by ideology.”

Whereas the federal government used to borrow for the future, “now we’re borrowing from the future to finance our own current consumption of government goods and services,” he continued. “If that isn’t decadence, I don’t know what is.”

Will noted that the biggest purchaser of U.S. government debt is the U.S. government itself through the Federal Reserve.

Meanwhile, he said, of all the income gains from 2009 through 2012, 95 percent went to the top 1 percent of income earners in the country.

“For all the current talking about income inequality, it has been widened under this (Obama) administration more radically than under any other administration I can think of,” Will said.

He also asserted that more Americans are becoming more dependent on the government amid a historically slow economic recovery. “This is unacceptable. The country is now in a kind of dreary new normal,” he said

Moving to the topic of so-called “entitlements,” Will asked the audience if any of them are driving a 1935 car or use a personal computer or cell phone from 1965. Then he said, “The two programs that are driving our budget are Social Security (established in 1935) and Medicare (established in 1965). The world has changed. The programs haven’t.”

The aging population combined with an entitlement system such as the one now in place is a recipe for crisis, he said, because Americans are living longer in retirement thanks to improved medical care.

Noting the disparity in average lifespan between 1935 (61.7 years) and 2010 (78.7 years), according to the National Center for Health Statistics, he said that while longevity is a wonderful American triumph, “it’s also tremendously expensive under a welfare state.”

Another serious problem, Will said, is one that was on the minds of many Americans this week as the tax deadline approached on April 15. “We desperately need a serious argument about the tax code, because it’s a mess,” he said.

Palm Beach Atlantic University baseball coach Kent Bottenfield (right) presents columnist George Will with PBA baseball cap and ball during Wednesday night's event at the DeSantis Family Chapel. PBA President William M.B. Fleming Jr. looks on. PBAU is a private, Christ-first college in West Palm Beach, Florida, USA.
PBA coach Kent Bottenfield presents columnist and baseball fan George Will with a Sailfish cap and ball during Wednesday night's event at the DeSantis Chapel. PBA President William M.B. Fleming Jr. looks on.

Will also addressed the topic of immigration, which he argues has become an example of the government deciding it knows everything. He held up the nearly 1,200-page Senate immigration bill and contrasted it with the one-page Homestead Act of 1862, “our first immigration bill,” he said.

This is the way we used to legislate, he said. “This is what we’re going to have to get back to. I think we can.”

However, for that to happen “we’re going to have to ask Americans to give back some of the promises that have been made to them,” Will said.

He also sounded a note of optimism regarding Washington gridlock, saying that “the government is supposed to be difficult … it’s supposed to be hard.”

Americans have the power to choose better policymakers, he said. “It’s in our hands.”

Following the Q-and-A session, Palm Beach Atlantic’s head baseball coach, former MLB player Kent Bottenfield, presented Will with a Sailfish baseball cap. A passionate baseball fan, Will has penned several books about the great American pastime, including his latest book “A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred.”