By Mitt Romney
December 19th, 2011
In less than a year, the American people will go to the polls and choose a new president. A matter of great moment is at stake in this election. The question we will decide is this: Will the United States be an Entitlement Society or an Opportunity Society?
In an Entitlement Society, government provides every citizen the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to innovate, pioneer or take risk. In an Opportunity Society, free people living under a limited government choose whether or not to pursue education, engage in hard work, and pursue the passion of their ideas and dreams. If they succeed, they merit the rewards they are able to enjoy.
Over the past three years, Barack Obama has been replacing our merit-based society with an Entitlement Society. The federal government has insinuated itself more and more deeply into health care, finance, energy, industry, the environment and labor. As a result of one of the most dramatic expansions of Washington’s power in our nation’s history, federal spending under Obama is now nearly a quarter of our GDP, and has risen to the highest level since the national emergency of World War II.
With the growth of government has come an inevitable contraction of the private sphere. The American economy, once the envy of the world, has fallen into disrepute. Unemployment stuck over 8% for 34 months — the longest such spell since the Great Depression— is only one symptom of the profoundly disturbing transformation of American society that the Obama administration has pursued.
Glimpsing the future
If we continue on this course for another four years, we may pass the point of no return. We will have created a society that contains a sizable contingent of long-term jobless, dependent on government benefits for survival. Many more in the middle class will be pushed into poverty. And there is the special problem of America’s young people. What social and political path will newly minted college graduates follow when they are unable to find jobs in which to put their energy and talents to use? It will be a tragedy if we have to find out the answer.
It will not only be a tragedy; it will be a needless tragedy because we can extricate ourselves from this distress. America is a fabulously rich country. Yet our wealth consists not only of material things, but also our ideas and our traditions and our founding principles. These principles empower our people and have made America the strongest nation in the world.
Our first principle is freedom. If we remove the shackles of government, if we unburden ourselves from the mountain of debt that we have been saddled with, we can become the Opportunity Society that we once were. America has historically rewarded hard work, education, industry, thrift and daring. The Founders called this a God-given right to the “pursuit of happiness.” We call it opportunity.
The first step in returning to an Opportunity Society is scaling back our vast federal government. I will put every single government program to a simple test: Is this program so critical to our nation’s future that we should borrow money from China to pay for it? But my objective is not merely to cut unnecessary spending. As president, I hope to accomplish something far larger.
America has tremendous dynamic potential. Just in the past decades, America pioneered the computer revolution and the Internet revolution that have profoundly changed the world. Equally important revolutions are under way in American laboratories in fields ranging from biotechnology to nanotechnology to energy. Our potential as a nation is boundless. We need to unleash it again.
Building ever costlier government entitlements is not the way to go about that. Quite the contrary; the dead hand of bureaucratic Washington can only stifle entrepreneurship. Government dependency can only foster passivity and sloth. We need to rein in government and unleash the extraordinary vitality and creativity of the American people.
We must not wait to suffer a crisis like Greece’s or Portugal’s to right the ship of state. With the proper policies and strong leadership, we can once again become a society that rewards merit, that welcomes innovators and new ideas, and is capable of creating undreamed of opportunities for all who seek them. That is what the election of 2012 is all about.