I've been pondering of late the socially conservative attitude in this nation (the US) and now wish to, after much thought, present this question to those who might have the answer~ Can one adequately distinguish, aside from semantical and peripheral distinctions, a fundamental difference (in application and veracity) between what are to be considered rights and what are to be considered entitlements? My thoughts on the subject are as follows.
There is currently much debate over social spending in this nation, and many services, or entitlements as some call them, are under extreme scrutiny or being disassembled altogether. Many who wish to abolish these programs state that they hinder american progress, the progress of individual citizens, and ultimately fail in their goal of bettering society due to their reliance of collecting funds from private citizens through taxation. These same people who wish to abolish entitlement programs are often the very same people who hold the bill of rights (and the entire constitution itself) close to heart, and often advocate abiding only to the letter and word of the document~ and yet, after scrutinizing the concepts of "fundamental rights" found in the constitution, and the application of the "entitlement" programs, I have trouble distinguishing the ultimate disparity between the two. I will address certain key arguments against these "social rights" programs, and my evaluation of such arguments.
The Rejection of Taxation
Quite typically the argument against any "entitlement program" begins with a demonization of the process of taxation by a federal gov't, that entity which typically funds (although often only partially) said programs. It is presented as peaceful citizens being forcefully coerced into contributing money, which is then redistributed amongst other citizens. While this view of taxation may be satisfying superficially, it is ultimately predicated on false assumptions and inaccuracies. The most glaring of the inherent problems to the "Rejection of Taxation" argument is that it is based upon an inferred assumption that taxation is not already expected of an individual. Federal taxation in the US has been the norm for nearly a century~ it would seem unreasonable that someone who might immigrate would not have knowledge of taxation (I believe it is covered under the naturalization process) or that someone who was born and raised here would not have a reasonable expectation to pay taxes~ however, regardless of the individuals situation, taxation is necessary to fund the standing army of this nation; residing within the boundaries protected by the Army of the United States compels an individual to contribute to the funding of such an army. Residing within the boundaries of the Gov't, and therefore subscribing to the benefits provided by the Gov't, be they social, infrastructure, legal rights, or protection from violent aggression, constitutes an implicit agreement of service. This agreement is terminated once an individual leaves the perimeter of the Gov'ts boundaries and/or renounces citizenship. There is no restriction on emigration in the United States~ therefore taxation, ultimately, is voluntary when considering the individuals option to leave. It is, however, unreasonable to demand use of services to be provided (and provided previously, such as infrastructure) without contributing for the services.
Getting back to my original thought, once the issue of taxation is resolved (although, in honesty, it should not be an issue to begin with) my real revelation boils down to this; The difference between the rights afforded by the Government of the United States to its citizens in the Bill of Rights and the Entitlement Programs such as Welfare, Social Security, MediCare, etc etc is negligible at best when considering the protections they offer in application. Let me present an argument for the difference between such rights, and then explain my position.
If we consider the original rights expressed in the Declaration of Independence and enumerated in the U.S. Constitution, it should be clear that there are massive differences between those rights and these new ones. The original rights were rights to live by one’s personal efforts without the interference of others, and in particular, without interference by government. That is what the founders of the United States were declaring independence from, after all. The Declaration of Independence speaks of the right to pursue happiness; it does not offer a guarantee that one will achieve happiness. This makes all the difference in the world; for in a free society there can be no guarantee that effort will meet with success.
Nevertheless, today we see plenty of demand for such guarantees, and more and more promises being made by government in response to these demands. Take the minimum wage. What this “right” does is force an employer to pay a higher wage than employees’ services might be worth under free market conditions. Or consider the “rights” to access now mandated by the Americans With Disabilities Act. This legislation requires businesses and other organizations to make extra-economic accommodations but does not clearly spell out what they have to do to comply. Such ambiguity is another characteristic of many recently discovered “rights.”
Given the vast differences between what is stated in this country’s founding documents and the demands we now see, accuracy and honesty call for a different term than rights. The term entitlements crept into our political and socioeconomic lexicon to refer to federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare. It is notable that the decision to partake of the fruits of these programs was not left up to the individual. By law, he had to participate, and this meant relinquishing an important aspect of freedom. Moreover, entitlements are always financed by compelling others to pay. Thus, they lead to more and more interference with individual freedom as government grows in size to administer its programs, seizing the fruits of individuals’ actions both to support itself and to fulfill its entitlement guarantees.
In other words, there is a hard and fast difference between rights and entitlements, a difference which the past seventy years of government policy has blurred to the point of indistinguishability. A free society must recognize the distinction. Otherwise, it has no way of knowing which claims of rights to acknowledge and which to reject as spurious. Legitimate rights are easy to recognize. They can be acted on by individuals without the assistance of government and without forcibly interfering with other individuals. Entitlements, on the other hand, cannot be fulfilled except through specific government actions which require forcible interference with others. Protecting rights is thus compatible with limited government. Granting entitlements requires an ever- expanding and increasingly meddlesome state. The more entitlements the state grants, the more it must extend itself to make good on its promises, and the greater its level of interference with people’s actions. Moreover, by interfering with successful actions, government becomes a drain on the individual’s energies. The individual must expend more and more effort to get the same personal benefits. This translates into a disincentive to produce, and when less is produced, there is less to seize and distribute. Soon, the state can no longer keep its promises.
original article here.
This seems to be a well defined argument against entitlement programs. I will address my issues with it from the top down, beginning with the discussion of the Declaration of Independence and its non-guarantee of "finding happiness." Despite the fact that the Declaration of Independence is in no way a governing document, but was actually a statement aimed at a particular individual (King George III) and for a nation as a whole, it is, in fact, offering protection of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" to the citizenry from all forces that might wish to take such inalienable rights away, not only the government. Such an interpretation (as the one in the article), while valid to an extent, falls short of meeting the calibre of the minds who might draft such a document~ for is the only force that can take such rights the gov't under which you live? At the time that was largely so, for monarchies were the typical establishments, and they were more than a century away from the industrial revolution and the rise of massive corporations~ however, considering the revolutionary and enlightened nature of the "Founding Fathers," does it not seem more likely that such a protection for the citizens of a nation is universal? That the Government will protect such universal rights from all threats? Also, it is written that " The Declaration of Independence speaks of the right to pursue happiness; it does not offer a guarantee that one will achieve happiness." and it is said that "This makes all the difference in the world; for in a free society there can be no guarantee that effort will meet with success."
Yet this claim is largely nonsensical in regards to social entitlement programs~ they do not offer happiness or a guarantee of such~ they offer equal protection for the citizenry so they may pursue happiness, or safeguards (such as food-stamps and welfare) to those who are at risk of losing life. These programs are extensions and the economic actualization of rights.
In the second paragraph, this distinction is made "What this “right” does is force an employer to pay a higher wage than employees’ services might be worth under free market conditions. Or consider the “rights” to access now mandated by the Americans With Disabilities Act. This legislation requires businesses and other organizations to make extra-economic accommodations but does not clearly spell out what they have to do to comply.
Such a negative and twisted view of these social programs is easily turned upon the "rights" that these same individuals uphold. Allow me rephrase the above statement.
"What this "right" does is force individuals to respect the citizens ability to protect themselves by carrying a firearm. Or consider the "right" afforded by the first amendment, which requires an entity to respect the free speech of any individual and/or their religious persuasion."
What can really be seen here is the advocation of a private entity's "rights" to supersede the rights of a citizen~ for these programs, in application, protect the workers right to Liberty through a fair working wage and their right to pursue happiness through equal access to opportunity through employment. Forcing that business to provide a minimum wage (although force isn't truly applicable, unless being fined is the same as a home invasion) guarantees the worker their ability to live off of their wages and their ability to pursue happiness through contribution to society. The Americans with Disabilities Act compels (through economic penalties, again, not the typical definition of force) to respect the rights of the disabled to work, live, and pursue happiness. This truly is, upon inspection, the advocation of a corporations rights to outweigh the rights of the individual, not a statement for freedom of the people.
In regards to Social Security and Medicare, he writes..
"it is notable that the decision to partake of the fruits of these programs was not left up to the individual. By law, he had to participate, and this meant relinquishing an important aspect of freedom."
And yet, this is only half true. There is no compulsion to receive your social security benefits. One can live their entire life and never receive a Social Security check~ however, once one does enroll in Social Security, they are automatically enrolled in Medicare (it is not option to opt out). This begs the question; if one is complaining about being forced into the entitlement program of Medicare, why are they enrolling in another entitlement program such as Social Security?
"Moreover, entitlements are always financed by compelling others to pay."
How exactly is this defined as an Entitlement, since every taxpayer pays into the program~ even the recipient? Is it not a collective investment instead of a handout?
By the final paragraph, I still cannot see the disconnect between the rights afforded to individuals and the economic programs that offer non-legal protection of such rights. I found this statement particularly interesting..
They [rights] can be acted on by individuals without the assistance of government and without forcibly interfering with other individuals. Entitlements, on the other hand, cannot be fulfilled except through specific government actions which require forcible interference with others.
The basis of this statement, which seems to sum up the entire argument, is taxation. It must be, for if force is defined legally then the rights afforded in the constitution are no different from entitlements~ when ones freedom of speech is stifled, they must use the legal system to protect themselves. It is the government that grants those rights, they do not simply happen by themselves. The right to vote? I do not see a way of that happening without the government. The right against self incrimination? Of due process? I see specific government actions involved in the actualization and protection of those rights. And yet, the taxation argument has already been dispelled~ so what exactly is the difference? Entitlements impose on others... Yet your constitutional rights impose upon me~ I must listen to even the foulest of sentiments and outright lies, I must walk the streets knowing than any person can be carrying a weapon that can take my life~ and yet the imposition they speak of is "I must pay a portion of my earnings so that others can live, and so that I may collect the same benefits later down the road."
I'm curious to see the discussion this may spur, for I have yet to see any reasonable explanation to these issues which are becoming more numerous and outspoken as of late. These demonized "entitlement programs" are merely the actualization of the rights and protections that this country's Founding Fathers put forth in their revolutionary documents~ it seems to me that those who are arguing against them are either ignorant, or worse, tyrannical, and see fit to strip Americans of their true liberty, not provide more.
I agree with your assesment Park. I have never thought there was any difference in entitlements and rights. Ill go so far to say that "natural" rights of course are no more than a political concept. We dont really have "natural" rights, we have entitlements as American citizens or citizens of which ever Republic. Our entitlements are protected by our collectively supported military and law enforcement agencies.
We often provde the same or a limited version of these entitlements to non-citizens who arrive on our shores for various reasons. But there again these arent "natural" rights as the rehtoric of the Declaration seems to imply.
Without having finished reading this as of yet, I will offer a quick response. The question is not, as you rightly point out, one of type but one of degree. I don't know anyone save the possible libertarian/anarchist who would advocate having no system of taxation whatsoever. I also don't know anyone who would advocate 100% state control of all the currency, removing handling money from the private sphere (and in effect making us all slaves to the state). The only questions are, to what extent should we tax, and to what extent should we spend? Where do we want the floor of our society to land, and where do we want the ceiling? If we aim for a high floor, which most of us on the left do, we are saying that we want to redistribute wealth generously amongst our citizenry, ensuring a high standard of living for even the poorest among us. In doing so, we may have to lower the ceiling by demanding more of our wealthiest citizens and keeping taxes on them high to pay for this society-wide standard of living. The right wants things the other way around. They want as high a ceiling as possible, so that the richest people can get as fabulously welathy as possible, but with the tradeoff of having a low floor. Aside from the aforementioned anarchists, there is going to be social engineering (socialism!) regardless of what we do. The only question is whether social engineering is in and of itself good or bad. Those on the right seem to think it is inherently evil, because demanding more of our wealthiest citizens, expecting them to take on more social responsibilities, goes directly against the heart of individualism. Capitalism is just code for individual liberty. It means freedom from the society, not within it. It means being out for oneself, without having to worry about what happens to our neighbors or people in other states, people who we don't care about and don't want to care about. We on the left, however, maintain that social responsibility is in the interests of the individual, to a greater degree that is. We strive for some sort of a balance between societal goals and individual goals, while the right wants to abdicate all social responsibility.
That is the essence of the struggle between right and left. the further right you go, the more fiercely individualistic are those that reside there. The further left, the more socialistic (in a separate sense from purely economic interests). It makes sense though that the wealthiest people in the wealthiest nation in the world would want to remain as individuals, because they are the ones who would be asked the most of. It is no wonder that the GOP is the party of mega corporations. What IS a wonder is that so many other people have accepted this, despite that it goes against their own economic interests. The right in America have so successfully wed religion to their party that, despite even going against the spirit of their religion (helping others!), they see themselves as some sort of persecuted minority out to defend themselves from the rest of us! You really have to get to another level of insanity to be poor and Christian and yet still find ways to justify being on the right side of the spectrum.
"Take the minimum wage. What this “right” does is force an employer to pay a higher wage than employees’ services might be worth under free market conditions. Or consider the “rights” to access now mandated by the Americans With Disabilities Act. This legislation requires businesses and other organizations to make extra-economic accommodations but does not clearly spell out what they have to do to comply. Such ambiguity is another characteristic of many recently discovered “rights.”
the hated characteristic...
A right is self sustainable, that is to say a right needs no external input to exist. Once you require the action of another being to provide something it is no longer a right as it now requires external input.
Pretty simple really.
You have the right to speech freely, however not a right to be listened to.
You have the right of self defense, not a guarantee of protection.
See how it works? This is why one can never have a "right" to healthcare as you must then force someone to provide for you, and how do you do that?
Entitlements are the government goody bags that the take from one group and give to another to keep the receiving group under control.
As expensive as health care is becoming and due to the fact that people are living longer, I doubt any society, anywhere, can afford to guanrantee all its citizens the rights to decent health care. Mabye a society can do it for a while, but I doubt it will ever work long term. Hopefully I am wrong.
That was a very good article Park. Thanks.
"But those rights you speak of are provided by the government, not outside of it. The government protects and provides a citizens right to free speech. Rights are always gifts from a society, not inherent~ for if you have no society, you have no rights; you only have your ability to hold your own against others, and once overpowered, you have nothing."
Bullshit. Even as a society we have individuals willing to deny other individuals rights of life, liberty, and property. Worse yet, we have an ever growing state that ever increasingly deprives citizens of life, liberty, and property. I absolutely disagree that government grants rights or that they are "gifts" from society. Government does not grant me the right of life, liberty, or property, nor does any other man or group of men. Government can only help me in the protection of these rights, but it does not grant them.
If our rights are given to us by society and government, then why would it not be possible for society, via government, to declare that atheists have no right to life? As you said, rights are gifts of government and society, and if we as atheists are ostracized from society, from your logic, they'd be perfectly within their capabilities and functions as a society and government to deny atheists their right to life.