Back in the mid 1990's I bought an economics book for myself - something completely out of character with my reading habits then: The Return of Thrift: How The Collapse Of the Middle Class Welfare State Will Reawaken Values In America by Phillip Longman. I cannot recall why the book called out to me; looking at the inside of the cover, I see it was $25.00 back then (not really very thrifty of me, come to think of it).
A short synopsis (it has been a while since I read it) was that per the author, America (then) had a middle class welfare problem. Through government programs like Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, Pension Bailouts, subsidized Federal home loans, and hefty retirement plans for high level military and bureaucrats (Not the enlisted, of course: My Father In Law The Master Sergeant did his 20 years and I can assure you his retirement pay is somewhat embarrassing), the country was enabling the spending of money far more rapidly than it was being taken in and was enabling the subsidization of middle class consumption, not the building of the middle class. Worse, it was enervating the old middle class values of thrift, frugality, and sturdiness.
Long's prescription fell into two categories.
For the Government, the task started with passing a balanced budget amendment (which, in all fairness in the intervening 26 years, they have not really held to). A means test would be applied to levels of income exceeding $40,000 (again remember, 1996) for retirement benefits and all other benefits. Additionally, health care subsidies would need to be ended except for the very poor as well as Medicare/Medicaid premiums and deductibles increased and possibly taxed and HMOs (still kind of a new thing back then encouraged. Finally, some kind of health care reform would have to happen, although he leaves the details rather vague. And or course, higher taxes (that was coming anyway).
For the individual, Long states the following: "The implications of this book for your own finances by now should be clear. You can go on living your life as if you could count on Social Security, Medicare, or other middle-class entitlements. But the younger you are, the more foolhardy you are to risk your future on such a dubious assumption." The only thing one can do is be responsible for one's own retirement is his response - and his charts give one the idea of how much that would actually be (he assumes an average return rate of 3% a year, which is pretty conservative and not bad, in my opinion, as a worst case scenario). He also suggests that such a thing as Mandatory Savings Account (MSA) be established on a sliding scale for government where the individual is required to put a certain amount of their money aside in an account for retirement, separate from an IRA, and managed by the individual (to be fair, this seems to be one of the main points of Long, something he touts a bit in terms of his idea).
What the middle class needs, suggest Long, is rediscovering what built the middle class:
"Middle class culture still celebrates play and time off, when a renewed commitment to work is required to pay off our personal and national debts. Middle-class culture still glorifies "self-actualization" and self-absorption, when economic necessity requires greater reliance on extended families to provide for the very young, the very old, the sick, and the unemployed. Middle-class culture, in short, is becoming less and less distinguished from proletarian culture in its shortsightedness and self-indulgence at a time when, due to changing economic reality, it should be becoming more asserrtively entrepreneurial, family centered, and bourgeois.
Those who don't wake up to the new reality will soon enough become proles."
Ultimately what Long promotes is the idea of thrift - self chosen or enforced - instead of what he perceives a middle class entitlement.
I present this not as a philosophy I agree with, but as a view of what 20 + years ago was a thought on how to avoid the significant increase of the national debt. Because I think it is fair to say that, like his ideas or not, in point of fact nothing was done about it, leading us to the staggering national debt we are under today.