"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, January 24, 2020

Entitlements, Says Who? No One Is Entitled To Anything

A number of years ago a well-known economist was perplexed at the notion of universal health care.  Health care, he argued, was a salable commodity like anything else; and there was no reason why the American taxpayers should pay for his yacht.  The thousands of dollars he was spending on health care per year could, under a single-payer system, now be used for the 50-foot sloop he had been admiring or mortgage payments on his second home in the Caribbean.  It was not fair, he argued, for the hardworking Americans who would be soaked more than they could afford to help him live in even greater luxury.

Image result for images luxury homes st bart's

Ah, said his critics, what about those poor, hardworking factory workers.  Aren’t they entitled to affordable, if not free health care? 

There is no such thing as entitlement, he argued.   In a free market economy, you get what you pay for.  Before the rise of the welfare state, Americans were quite used to paying only for what they could afford, what they valued.  Saving, forgoing non-essential expenditures; building a ‘nest egg’ in case of illness, debility, or infirmity; assuring a family support network were ways of managing income and expenditures, shepherding capital, and hedging against risk.

A citizen brought far-left progressive presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren to heel with this comment.  He paid for his daughter's education with his own money - hard-earned, carefully-saved dollars.  Why should his financial prudence be ignored if not dismissed? Why should a system of universal, public debt offering a free ride to all comers, a consequent devaluation of education, and a rejection of America's foundational principles be substituted for personal responsibility?  Warren stumbled, and balked through a patent answer, but the issue had been finally been raised.

As the economy grew and competition between labor and capital became more market-driven and less controlled by labor and progressive reformers, industry and business began to offer benefits; and workers were free to contrast and compare.  Now, especially in today’s highly complex economic environment, even more opportunities for employment are available, and workers can balance favorable benefits with higher salaries, more flexibility, and better working conditions.  In short now more than ever, the American worker has the opportunity to decide for himself what to do with his paycheck.

At the same time as the issue of universal healthcare was being discussed, so was another supposed entitlement, Social Security.  The same economist argued that the system was another example of central government monopoly over workers economic choices.  Why should government require the withholding of workers income and the contribution of employers when the private financial markets would offer better and more for both employee and employer?  The employer, no longer having to invest in social welfare would be able to use that money to expand, to hire, and to improve.  The individual, earning rewards and dividends from the equity markets would be far better off than relying on a low-reward, low-risk system.

Once again, no one is entitled to any government benefits either through direct transfer or through third-party (employer schemes).

Who says? Flippant though the question may seem, it addresses the issue correctly.  Shortly after the demise of the Soviet Union, another American economist travelled to Poland to help them sort out their capitalist, democratic future.  After decades of communist rule, neither rulers nor ruled had any idea what to do in what they saw as an economic free-for-all.  As part of the transition to democracy and a market economy the government convened a council of economic and social advisors to write a new constitution, and one of their first tasks was to enunciate what they saw as a Bill of Rights.

One of the first rights to be discussed was ‘The Right To Work’; but the participants were hard pressed to answer the question, ‘Who Says?”.  In America, advised the economist, the Bill of Rights is based on the thinking of the English Enlightenment, a combination of moral principles and religious conviction.  These rights, the economist explained, were God-given, and their authority rests with Him.  They were universal, permanent and absolute.  No change of government, no political storms could alter them.

Image result for images bill of rights

The Poles, still under the influence of their former Soviet masters, insisted illogically that government had the authority to grant rights, even if the idea of government itself was temporal and subject to frequent change.  What one government felt was a right, another might rescind, and so on.
Besides, said the economist, under your new free-market, democratic system, isn’t it high time to do away with government entitlements and presupposed rights and leave it to the electorate and the market to sort out who gives what to whom.? Individualism, reminded the economist, is the essence of new capitalist system.  Nothing is taken for granted, no one is entitled to anything, and it is only through individual enterprise and the power of free association that demands are to be considered and met.

Herb Elfin grew up an only child and a spoiled child at that.  He had come to expect preferential treatment from his parents, his teachers, school administrators, coaches, and even priests.  Not only was he a pissy, irritating, and totally annoying person, his sense of entitlement knew no bounds.  He even (he boasted) told a priest off in the confessional, a Father O’Reilly who had the audacity to challenge his particular interpretation of wrong – which, he insisted, was not the issue, only shades of right.

Image result for Image Catholic confessional With Priest

No one liked Herbie Elfin, not even his parents who could only muster a shrug of the shoulders, a quizzical look, and an exasperated gesture which said, “Don’t look at me”, suggesting that his niggling, pestering, horrible self-righteousness didn’t come from them but from some distant relative, like Great Uncle Harry, an equally pissy, unpleasant character from fifty years back.  Yet all the social opprobrium in the world had no effect on Herbie who assumed entitlement until it was forcibly taken away from him.

It didn’t help that this spoiled brat grew up in an age of entitlement – black Americans were entitled to reparations in repayment for the ills of slavery.  Women should get preferential treatment if not priority in art literature, and music because they were entitled to it after so many years without recognition.  There should be a gay man on every corporate board, three in every town council; and at least one transsexual per 100, however.

In the first decades of the 21st century the rule was entitlement – what you are owed, not what you have earned.  Once social debts have been repaid, then, perhaps, and only then should one think of contributions.

It is not surprising to anyone that public entitlements – health care, Social Security, welfare, ‘affordable’ housing – and personal entitlements (a rung up on the social ladder, affirmative action, identity-based promotion) are products of the same progressive philosophy – we are all owed something, and government  is the provider.  John F Kennedy’s inaugural exhortation (‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’) is now a familiar nostrum, a Hallmark Card greeting, common wisdom which has been thoroughly and completely ignored in this age of entitlement.  ‘Maybe’, say the entitled, ‘I’ll think about giving back, but not until I get mine”.

Who says today’s minorities deserve entitlement more than the Italians, Poles, Irish, Jews, and Slavs that came to America not expecting to get, but to give.   When Italians from Sicily, Naples, Calabria and Abruzzo came to the United States, they expected nothing to be given to them.  They were called guineas, wops, kikes, micks, polacks, and hunkies and never asked for government intercession or help.  They knew that life would be difficult, lived on the margins of Anglo Saxon America, and success meant fending for oneself.  So the Sorrentinos of New Haven banded together, helped each other get work in the factories, looked to the Mafia for recognition that no public official would ever given them, and relied on families for support, health care, and social security.

Image result for image italian ghetto america turn of the century

What happened?  How did a defiantly self-reliant, independent, hardworking, and individualistic populace become so soft and weak?  When and why did the assumption of entitlement creep in to the American ethos?  Many say with Roosevelt and the New Deal, and although some say he singlehandedly raised the country out of the Great Depression, others said the damage he did by creating the Super State, the guarantor of all benefits, welfare, and support was far more important than his economic stimulus.  After Roosevelt, everyone began to look first to public coffers.  Easier to eat out of the public trough than forage for food.

So even though Herbie was a straight, white man, and under the progressive ethos of the time deserving of nothing, entitled to nothing, and blamed for all, he not only survived but did extremely well playing the entitlement card.  He never stooped to claiming dyslexia or ADHD – which he could have because of his trailing marks in math and science – because there were easier and more productive avenues to follow.  He found that at as a homeowner in the District,  he was entitled to a first-time homeowner interest free mortgage, easy admission to the University of the District of Columbia, property easements, tax relief, and a whole raft of other entitlements just for pitching his tent within city limits.  He claimed gender priority because he claimed the particular gender identity which conferred particular status within the transgender community.  His sexual choice from the gender smorgasbord entitled him to benefits – legal assistance if needed, public speaking engagements, financial aid – all for check 43C on the gender preference box.

Despite the distinct disadvantage of being of a supposedly privileged class (white male), he found that the current zeitgeist was exceedingly permissive.  If he could simply come up with an entitlement – something owed, anything due – he could be on his way, no questions asked.  In other words Herbie Elfin was born a spoiled brat, raised a spoiled brat, and grew up to be one of the spoiled brats of his generation. 

It’s an ugly story, both Herbie’s and America’s, and Jefferson, Hamilton, and Adams would be turning over in their graves if they knew how their cherished Enlightenment  principles had been so distorted, deformed, or downright dismissed.  Of course no beneficiary of the entitlement generation ever gave a second thought to the Founding Fathers or the philosophical movement which inspired them.  They simply took and demanded more.

So for the time being, the cries for a universal health care system, Social Security system, expanded welfare, public benefits, subsidized housing, free education, and open access to college continue.  More and more Americans buy into the system, and wake up with nothing to show for it.  They have been eased through the educational system where little was demanded of them, graduated with no skills and no intellectual foundation; they have assumed government patronage and patriarchy in every aspect in their life until the public coffers run dry, administrations change, and consumer tax revolts shut the public spigot.  Then where will they be?

Entitlement?  Who says? No one says, and no one is entitled to anything.  If we continue to be a dependent, soft, complaisant, and entitled populace, we deserve whatever the next balky, unwilling, and unforgiving government will give or withhold from us.  The days of entitlement are long over.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.