Why the Entitlement State?

Monday, 03 Dec 2012 09:26 PM

By Armstrong Williams

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​I was walking by the Democratic National Headquarters recently on Capitol Hill, and I saw a sign on the windows that read, “END MEDICARE. VOTE REPUBLICAN.”

​I found this curious. To my knowledge, no Republican in decades has ever proposed something like that. I also was reminded of how the Democrats justify their own spending often with tales of Republican profligacy, most notably with the $13 trillion Medicare Part D entitlement.

harry-reid.jpg
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is “not bringing entitlements to the table.”
(Getty Images)
Since no one is actually proposing this, this sign is effectively a lie.

​I had to ask, however, why not? Why won’t they propose something like this? In other words, what are the arguments for the entitlement state? We take it for granted that we have one, and we don’t even ask anymore why it exists.

​Now might be a good time to do so, with the fiscal cliff negotiations taking place, and prominent office-seeking Republicans panning former Gov. Mitt Romney’s explanation that the president was re-elected because of “gifts.”

​The arguments for entitlements are usually moral arguments, never economic arguments. No one thinks that it’s good for our economy, even the most reality-phobic Keynesian. It is never, “this will work and we’ll all prosper,” but always presented to us in moral guise: “don’t throw Grammaw off the cliff!”

​And because this is a moral argument, Democrats and their Republican enablers are simply not interested in economic issues, like the cost of the transfers, the bureaucracy necessary, or the drag on the economy from taxing productive citizens. They don’t care how many trillions we owe to the Chinese; they care about “fairness,” that magic word.

​So we must consider this argument in moral, rather than economic terms.

​What is their case? Well, they say, we have to take care of our own. They might also say, as fewer and fewer in our society do, that the Lord commands us to care for the weak, and that whatsoever we do to the least of our brethren will be read to us on judgment day by the Lord.

​Well, unless I am mistaken, there is nothing in the Bible about rendering unto Caesar that Caesar might render unto Lazarus. The rich man who ignores Lazarus goes to hell not because he had a slick tax lawyer to find loopholes for him, but because there was a poor man on his doorstep that he ignored.

​In other words, this is an enthymeme, an argument with a hidden premise, and that premise is that it’s the government’s job, not yours, to care for the poor. Does that sound moral to anyone?

​Another moral argument — one that, in contrast to the previous one, we hear more and more — might be just the inverse: it’s not right that some people have it easy. To use the Biblical example, it’s not fair that the rich man eats while Lazarus is licked by dogs.

​It’s important to remember that the evil in this scenario is not the rich man eating but Lazarus not eating. It is not evil to be rich, but suffering is an evil that some must endure. So we’re back where we started: we should not be complicit in the suffering of others if we can relieve it. But, as in the previous argument, is it the government’s job?

​I hear a lot from older people that they “paid in” and therefore that they “earned” their benefits. This is the saddest of all the arguments for entitlements, because it betrays that they have been lied to. This is not how entitlements work: you do not have an account in Washington with your name on it that you simply draw from. You pay taxes that pay for current retirees, and when you retire, someone else pays for you.

​It is, as Gov. Rick Perry so controversially remarked, a Ponzi scheme, and as with every other Ponzi scheme, those who got in early get theirs, and those who came later get fleeced.

​So what do we do? Well, when a thing is unsustainable — as all of our entitlement programs are — then they must be made sustainable or end. And the sooner that we do this, the less will we all have to suffer.

​Imagine my dismay, then, upon reading in the National Journal that Sens. Schumer and Durbin announced that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is “not bringing entitlements to the table” in fiscal cliff negotiations.

​In that case, all I can say is: END MEDICARE. VOTE DEMOCRAT.

​Armstrong Williams is an African-American political commentator who writes a conservative newspaper column, hosts a nationally syndicated TV program called “The Right Side,” and hosts a daily radio show on Sirius/XM Power 128 (7-8 p.m. and 4-5 a.m.) Monday through Friday. Read more reports from Armstrong Williams — Click Here Now.

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