More than 40 years after Karl Hess identified the internal contradiction of "free gift" politics, the concept is thriving among those who seek our endorsement. Focus groups tell ministers and their would-be replacements that the public expect both higher benefits and lower taxes. But when pressed about who should pay for an expansion of social services, almost no one volunteers. Picking up the bill is someone else's task.
For the modern British politician, this means taking a position that is outwith criticism, preferably one that can barely be identified, while delaying all the difficult choices. Little wonder that our pension system is crumbling, and welfare reform exists only as a subject for academic discussion.
Things look bleak indeed.