America’s Entitlement Mentality: Is There a Way Out?

According to a recent Fox News poll, 73 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the direction of the country, up 20 points from 2012. Americans sense that there’s a lot going wrong in our nation, but most don’t have a clue about the true nature of our problem. If they had a clue, most would have little stomach for what would be necessary to arrest our national decline. Let’s look at it.

Between two-thirds and three-quarters of federal spending, in contravention of the U.S. Constitution, can be described as Congress taking the earnings or property of one American to give to another, to whom it does not belong. You say, “Williams, what do you mean?” Congress has no resources of its very own. Moreover, there’s no Santa Claus or tooth fairy who gives it resources. The fact that Congress has no resources of its very own forces us to recognize that the only way Congress can give one American one dollar is to first — through intimidation, threats and coercion — confiscate that dollar from some other American through the tax code.

If any American did privately what Congress does publicly, he’d be condemned as an ordinary thief. Taking what belongs to one American to give to another is theft, and the receiver is a recipient of stolen property. Most Americans would suffer considerable anguish and cognitive dissonance seeing themselves as recipients of stolen property, so congressional theft has to be euphemized and given a respectable name. That respectable name is “entitlement.” Merriam-Webster defines entitlement as “the condition of having a right to have, do, or get something.” For example, I am entitled to walk into the house that I own. I am entitled to drive the car that I own. The challenging question is whether I am also entitled to what you or some other American owns.

Let’s look at a few of these entitlements. More than 40 percent of federal spending is for entitlements for the elderly in the forms of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, housing and other assistance programs. The Office of Management and Budget calculates that total entitlement spending comes to about 62 percent of federal spending. Military spending totals 19 percent of federal spending. By the way, putting those two figures into historical perspective demonstrates the success we’ve had becoming a handout nation. In 1962, military expenditures were almost 50 percent of the federal budget, and entitlement spending was a mere 31 percent. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that entitlement spending will consume all federal tax revenue by 2048.

Entitlement spending is not the only form of legalized theft. The Department of Agriculture gives billions of dollars to farmers. The departments of Energy and Commerce give billions of dollars and subsidized loans to corporations. In fact, every Cabinet-level department in Washington is in charge of handing out at least one kind of subsidy or special privilege. Most federal non-defense “discretionary spending” by Congress is for handouts.

Despite the fact that today’s increasing levels of federal government spending are unsustainable, there is little evidence that Americans have the willingness to do anything about it. Any politician who’d even talk about significantly reining in unsustainable entitlement spending would be run out of town. Any politician telling the American people they must pay higher taxes to support handout spending, instead of concealing spending through deficits and running up the national debt and inflation, would also be run out of town. Can you imagine what the American people would do to a presidential candidate who’d declare, as James Madison did in a 1794 speech to the House of Representatives, “Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government”?

If we are to be able to avoid ultimate collapse, it’s going to take a moral reawakening and renewed constitutional respect — not by politicians but by the American people. The prospect of that happening may be whistlin’ “Dixie.”

  • Audrey

    “More than 40 percent of federal spending is for entitlements for the elderly in the forms of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it money that most of these people collected during their active life? I mean, they did pay taxes so they could benefit from this help later. It’s not like (for most of them) they did nothing and now we’re giving them free money.

  • writeby

    As a 62 year old, I can answer that: Yes. However, SS was meant to be a *savings* account, money to accrue interest; not some cookie jar which the feds regular robbed. Medicare & Medicaid–the major causes of increasing med costs–were *not* paid for initially. Or, rather, were (supposedly) wrapped in the SS deduction. Both ought be abolished; both will collapse because they are unsustainable.

    The answer to how to extricate ourselves from this mess is really quite simple: gradually–but absolutely.

    Anyone 60 or older ought receive 100% of SS.
    55-60: 90%
    50-55: 75%
    40-50: 50%
    30-40: 25%
    Under 30: 0 But opted out of SS prgrm

    Paying in:
    40-65: Pay in 100%
    30-40: Pay in 75%
    20-30: 50%

    Under 20: no pay *and* opted out of program

  • Lawrence

    As long as half of Americans foot the bill for the other half…..It aint gonna change folks!!!

  • Al Graham

    You talk about owning a car or a house, but how did those objects come into being? Did the owner create them himself? Is that why he owns them? No! They are the products of a society, which has to function as a society with a properly funded infrastructure. In this society – or community – there are those who are robbed of some of the value of their labour – through coercion and intimidation (the fear of poverty) – by having to work for a low wage. These workers have helped to create the houses and cars owned by the “haves”. So when these workers fall on hard times (often through no fault of their own) is it really “theft” for the government, which oversees their society, to expect the “haves” to contribute something to alleviate the hardship of those without whom they would not have ownership of their cars and houses? I think not.

  • writeby

    1) If the home owner didn’t pay for the house (having earned the money or credit to do so) and some one hadn’t first invented or discovered the materials and methods to build–and how to produce them cheaply–construction workers would not get paid nor even have a job.
    2) Have you checked the wages of masons, carpenters, plumbers, etc.?

    Those who produce wealth–create construction companies, found banks, build steel corporations, etc., –give money its value. Not those who punch a time clock.

    Moreover, if men like Bessemer had not created more wealth by means of discovering new methods of industry, those workers would have no time clock to punch.

    Blurring these facts, which distinguish worker from producer, allows one to advocate collectivism (see: Das Kapital, Plato’s Republik & Laws), which then justifies a command economy whereby the most productive are robbed to help out the least productive*, aka the “little guy.” (*which is why he’s called the “little guy.”)

    Of note, too, are the average salaries of those who construct the homes:

    Electricians ($53,030),
    Plumbers ($52,950),
    Masons ($50,370),
    Carpenters ($44,520)
    Glaziers ($42,090).

    Of course, with government deficit spending (to help out those little guys) inflation eats away the actual value of the dollar. So perhaps those salaries today aren’t viewed by folks as impressive as they normally would be.

    Aside from all that, though, the moral consideration is that society isn’t a beehive or an ant colony. It’s an association of individuals that, thanks to the division of labor, allows men to be more efficient and to protect that which they produce–not to loot their neighbors’ property. Men are not insects nor are rational men cannibals; they’re autonomous beings who own their lives and their rights.

    Finally, viewing ownership as the result of one having physically built the actual structure, vehicle or product is a pre-industrial view held by mankind for centuries. And I think we all know how that worked out for the “little guy”:

    “Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.”

    Heinlein ironically calls this “bad luck.” But the fact is, such events post-industrialization are the results of a spiteful, hateful envy, which uses the “little guy” bromide as justification for destroying the big guy and which is what lies beneath all the demands for income redistribution, all the heartfelt appeals to brotherhood and all the tears shed in righteous pity and conceited compassion.