29 March 2011

Thoughts on Entitlement

Recently, my aunt, who belongs to a writing group called Spin Class, asked me to read a piece she had written about entitlement.  And because I could not resist, I thought I'd write a bit on that subject as well.  Call it subject coattail riding.

Because definitions are important, the third definition of entitlement on dictionary.com seems appropriate:  the right to guaranteed benefits under a government program.  I say appropriate because, under presidents on Congresses of both political parties, benefits have expanded and mutated to the point where a claim may be put on just about anything.  A partial list of entitlements might include the following: health care, health insurance, an education, a college education, a job, a house, homeownership, food, and broadband internet.  Where all of those entitlements come from, I have no idea.  I can't find them in the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence - unless under some twisted, living-breathing twist on "pursuit of happiness".  After all, how can one achieve happiness without broadband internet delivered to his own home?  Generations have suffered.  We owe it to ourselves.

But a look back at that definition reveals something about our use of language.  The following three words are, for better or worse, equated: entitlement, right, benefit.  I would say the equivalency of those three words is to our detriment.

A common understanding of what rights are and their origin comes from the afore mentioned Declaration of Independence:  "that [all men] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights".  But through applying the word "right" to so many things, some important aspects have been stripped away, most importantly the originator of our unalienable rights - the Creator.  Instead, rights have become whatever is legislated, they have become things of man, and yet are still somehow considered unalienable, things which cannot be refused once enacted (or, one might use the word granted).

And so the idea of a right begins to shift into an entitlement, granted by government.  But such things must also, and to a greater degree, be given rather than earned for many.  Entitlements as a form of government giving have a veneer of compassion for the individual.  They are for the benefit of the downtrodden, the suffering, and that is a good thing - except that the entitlement tends to be without end.  Would anyone say that dependence on government giving, government compassion, is a beneficial way for an individual to live?  Does it help the individual in his pursuit of happiness?

I would argue that it does not.  Entitlements, and more importantly, a sense of entitlement in individuals is a corrosive force in our society.  Dennis Prager famously said, "The bigger the government, the smaller the individual."  Entitlements have the consequence, intended or not, of growing government at the expense of the governed.  Yet the governed can feel comforted, cushioned, protected.  It only costs individual liberty.  And it may be that many, many people would rather feel a sense of protection under the dome of entitlement than the uncertainty and freedom of individual liberty.  How and why that balance shifts will say a great deal about our national character.


Bonnie said...

Brilliant. It makes me want to rewrite my piece slightly!

Bob M. said...

Thank you for your kind comment. I really appreciate it.