Column on Entitlement Foibles
Tibor R. Machan
Gloating as they are too often wont to do, modern welfare state liberals are eager to point out that when it comes to proposing cuts in government spending, many who advocate it will not be specific. Even more telling, the liberals hold, is the fact that few if any will proclaim Social Security and Medicare a target of such cuts.
Perhaps this makes sense even when one sincerely wants the government to reduce it scope of involvement in society–to become, in short, truly limited as the American Founders wanted it to be and as, in any case, it ought to be. Let’s see.
Social security is often believed to be an insurance program, albeit one that is forced on people, yet still, the money taken for it is regarded by most who paid into it as theirs, so getting it out is naturally seen as simply having one’s funds returned in old age. Perhaps the idea of cutting social security is viewed with suspicion, as a way to rob people of what belongs to them and not as a reduction of government spending at all. Moreover, very likely few people have a clue just how the program could be removed from the government, how it might be privatized, especially after the “liberals”–it always sticks in my throat to call them that–have been working overtime demonizing privatization (even when it would only involve a relatively small percentage of the amount now taken from those who must pay into the system).
Medicare, too, has become something of a fixture and while there are pretty clear cut ways in which the free market could handle the insurance it amounts to, one can easily appreciate that few people have looked closely and hard at just how that might be done. Once people get used to being on the dole, especially for something the demagogues insist is their due by now, the very notion that they might get rid of it will strike most of them as implausible. Just float the idea of privatizing public education, or even public libraries, not to mention public parks and forests and airports! Most folks are unfamiliar with the work that has been done to show that all of this is quite feasible.
I remember when as a teen I was living in Germany where television and radio, not to mention trains and planes and virtually all other means of transport, were government run. To even suggest that this is not only economically silly but also an unjust sharing of benefits and burdens among people with very different needs and desire was met with incredulity. Surely this is to be expected of people whose ancestors were the mere subjects of various rulers, ones who rarely considered them to be self-responsible, who treated them as invalids or infants in most matters of concern.
In short, the governmental habit is difficult to shake–just like any narcotic–once one becomes acclimated to the benefits. The burdens are often hidden, or sold as part of being a citizen (or some similar ruse). And in comparison to how most people throughout the globe used to be treated by their rulers (!), the welfare state is a relatively mild oppressor. So when dismantling it is widely promoted to be cruel and nasty, the fact that doing so would be quite unusual, too, can make advocating such dismantling rather onerous, politically hazardous.
Ayn Rand once wrote a column, if I recall right, titled “It’s Earlier Than You Think,” suggesting that even Americans, with their unique and exceptional political tradition stressing individual rights, aren’t quite ready to accept the responsibility of living in a bona fide free country. They are still suffering from the illusions associated with ancient regimes and with modern statism, given how many reputable people–at colleges and universities and in the media across the land–clamor for these. (Just consider that nearly all of our educational institutions live off government!)
So it is a cheap shot to point out that critics of the bloated state do not always know quite what to say when asked for what in particular they would remove from its jurisdiction. Virtually everything, I think, can be done by people throughout the rest of society and government should only handle what the Founders said, “to secure our rights.” But this is still a revolutionary notion, not comfortable on the lips of politicians and the people considering supporting them
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