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Understanding the deep roots of entitlement woes

Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s Sunday columns are usually thought-provoking, but not always in the way he intended. His latest opinion piece laments the vastly expanded entitlement economy — what he calls "a European-style welfare state" ("How the welfare state has grown," April 7). Although few objective observers would describe the U.S. social safety net that way, most people recognize that our current spending on these programs is not sustainable in the long term.

However, like Mitt Romney before him, Mr. Ehrlich seems uninterested in how this state of affairs came to be, other than blaming "big government." We cannot deal with the issues he raises until we come to that understanding.

It is not news that in the past several decades, the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots" in America has increased. Labor force participation is now the lowest in many years, yet the stock market is through the roof. There are a lot more people now who are either poor or are just scraping by. They are unemployed, under-employed or simply making too little money to uphold a decent standard of living. Apparently, corporate America either doesn't need them or knows they can be easily replaced. These people need help and they're getting it wherever they can.

The reasons for their situation are many and complex. Some are beyond our control: the globalization of trade, the vast increase in health-care (and health insurance) costs, the change from a manufacturing to an information-based economy, and the modern corporate obsession with quarterly profits which values stockholders over workers.

Some of the causes are the result of policies supported by both political parties, in particular, a corporate tax and regulatory system that fails to discourage the outsourcing of American jobs or protect our retail sector from cheap foreign goods made in abhorrent conditions.

But some of the reasons can be laid right at the door of Mr. Ehrlich's own political party: their opposition to raising the minimum wage, their systematic war against organized labor, their refusal to consider structural changes in our health-care delivery system, their resistance to investing public money in job-creating infrastructure improvements and their objection to meaningful financial-sector regulation, a major factor in the housing market crash of several years ago.

As long as Mr. Ehrlich and people of similar persuasion fail to look beyond the safety net expenditures to the underlying economic issues, the root causes of the problems they claim to care about will remain unaddressed.

George Kaplan, Colora

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