Nicholas Eberstadt | The Wall Street Journal September 01, 2012 The American republic has endured for well over two centuries, but over the past 50 years, the apparatus of American governance has undergone a radical transformation. In some basic respectsâits scale, its preoccupations, even many of its purposesâthe U.S. government today would be scarcely recognizable to Franklin D. Roosevelt, much less to Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson. What is monumentally new about the American state today is the vast empire of entitlement payments that it protects, manages and finances. Within living memory, the federal government has become an entitlements machine. As a day-to-day operation, it devotes more attention and resources to the public transfer of money, goods and services to individual citizens than to any other objective, spending more than for all other ends combined. The growth of entitlement payments over the past half-century has been breathtaking. In 1960, U.S. government transfers to individuals totaled about $24 billion in current dollars, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. By 2010 that total was almost 100 times as large. Even after adjusting for inflation and population growth, entitlement transfers to individuals have grown 727% over the past half-century, rising at an average rate of about 4% a year. In 2010 alone, government at all levels oversaw a transfer of over $2.2 trillion in money, goods and services. The burden of these entitlements came to slightly more than $7,200 for every person in America. Scaled against a notional family of four, the average entitlements burden for that year alone approached $29,000."In 2010 alone, government at all levels oversaw a transfer of over $2.2 trillion in money, goods and services. The burden of these entitlements came to slightly more than $7,200 for every person in America." A half-century of unfettered expansion of entitlement outlays has completely inverted the priorities, structure and functions of federal administration as these were understood by all previous generations. Until 1960 the accepted task of the federal government, in keeping with its constitutional charge, was governing. The overwhelming share of federal expenditures was allocated to some limited public services and infrastructure investments and to defending the republic against enemies foreign and domestic. In 1960, entitlement payments accounted for well under a third of the federal government's total outlaysâabout the same fraction as in 1940, when the Great Depression was still shaping American life. But over subsequent decades, entitlements as a percentage of total federal spending soared. By 2010 they accounted for just about two-thirds of all federal spending, with all other responsibilities of the federal government making up barely one-third. In a very real sense, entitlements have turned American governance upside-down. Government data on public transfers can be used to divide entitlement spending into six baskets: income maintenance, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, unemployment insurance and all the others. Broadly speaking, the first two baskets concern entitlements based on poverty or income status; the second two, entitlements attendant on aging or old-age status; and the next, entitlements based on employment status. These entitlements account for about 90% of total government transfers to individuals, and the first four categories comprise about five-sixths of all such spending. These four bear closest consideration. Poverty- or income-related entitlementsâtransfers of money, goods or services, including health-care servicesâaccounted for over $650 billion in government outlays in 2010. Between 1960 and 2010, inflation-adjusted transfers for these objectives increased by over 30-fold, or by over 7% a year. Significantly, however, income and benefit transfers associated with traditional safety-net programs comprised only about a third of entitlements granted on income status, with two-thirds of those allocations absorbed by the health-care guarantees offered through the Medicaid program. For their part, entitlements for older AmericansâMedicare, Social Security and other pension paymentsâworked out to even more by 2010, about $1.2 trillion. In real terms, these transfers multiplied by a factor of about 12 over that periodâor an average growth of more than 5% a year. But in purely arithmetic terms, the most astonishing growth of entitlements has been for health-care guarantees based on claims of age (Medicare) or income (Medicaid). Until the mid-1960s, no such entitlements existed; by 2010, these two programs were absorbing more than $900 billion annually. In current political discourse, it is common to think of the Democrats as the party of entitlements, but long-term trends seem to tell a somewhat different tale. From a purely statistical standpoint, the growth of entitlement spending over the past half-century has been distinctly greater under Republican administrations than Democratic ones. Between 1960 and 2010, the growth of entitlement spending was exponential, but in any given year, it was on the whole roughly 8% higher if the president happened to be a Republican rather than a Democrat. This is in keeping with the basic facts of the time: Notwithstanding the criticisms of "big government" that emanated from their Oval Offices from time to time, the administrations of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George W. Bush presided over especially lavish expansions of the American entitlement state. Irrespective of the reputations and the rhetoric of the Democratic and Republican parties today, the empirical correspondence between Republican presidencies and turbocharged entitlement expenditures should underscore the unsettling truth that both political parties have, on the whole, been working together in an often unspoken consensus to fuel the explosion of entitlement spending. From the founding of our nation until quite recently, the U.S. and its citizens were regarded, at home and abroad, as exceptional in a number of deep and important respects. One of these was their fierce and principled independence, which informed not only the design of the political experiment that is the U.S. Constitution but also their approach to everyday affairs.