Robert Samuelson gets one thing wrong in his Newsweek/Washington Post column this week: Cato isn’t a conservative think tank. At least, I think it would be odd to call scholars “conservative” when they criticize the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, the growth of executive power, the war on drugs, the holding of American citizens without habeas corpus, the federal marriage amendment, the late lamented sodomy laws, and the general attempts by both right and left to impose their moral values on all Americans through government.
But he’s right on his main point: The growth of entitlement spending, especially for the elderly, is not only a looming fiscal disaster but a fundamental shift in the nature of American government. He proposes
that some public-spirited sugar daddy (the MacArthur Foundation? Warren Buffett?) sponsor a short book. A possible title: “Facing Up to an Aging America.” Six leading think tanks would be invited to participate: three liberal – the Brookings Institution, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Urban Institute– and three conservative: the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation.
We accept. We’ve been writing about the entitlements crisis since 1980 or thereabouts. We’d be glad to join other research institutions in a grand public debate about how big we want government to be and what its appropriate responsibilities are.