Sunday, September 09, 2012

The Corrupting Influence of Entitlements

I think I've mentioned previously that I'm becoming more and more convinced that not only are transfer payments and entitlements harmful to those who are forced to fund them, they're also deeply harmful to the newly created underclass of chronic dependents who accept them.

John Allison has often stressed the spiritual value of engaging in a productive life, at whatever level, as obviously has Ayn Rand.  But I'm only now starting to appreciate the full value of their insight.  It is, as far as I can tell, another aspect of the good being objective (not intrinsic).  Thus money on its own is not a value, it takes the whole context, including the reality orientation, self-responsibility, etc. of those who work to earn it, that truly makes it a value. (I don't mean here to discount the value of the material sustenance it provides, but to highlight the larger picture which chronic dependents completely miss out on.)

As a result I now see articles like this one pointing to an even worse problem than I'd previously understood.    Here's a snippet describing the situation today:
What is monumentally new about the American state today is the vast empire of entitlement payments that it protects, manages and finances. Within living memory, the federal government has become an entitlements machine. As a day-to-day operation, it devotes more attention and resources to the public transfer of money, goods and services to individual citizens than to any other objective, spending more than for all other ends combined.
The growth of entitlement payments over the past half-century has been breathtaking. In 1960, U.S. government transfers to individuals totaled about $24 billion in current dollars, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. By 2010 that total was almost 100 times as large. Even after adjusting for inflation and population growth, entitlement transfers to individuals have grown 727% over the past half-century, rising at an average rate of about 4% a year.
And a snippet describing the original American attitude which previously made the existence of an entitlement  state impossible:
The proud self-reliance that struck Alexis de Tocqueville in his visit to the U.S. in the early 1830s extended to personal finances. The American "individualism" about which he wrote did not exclude social cooperation—the young nation was a hotbed of civic associations and voluntary organizations. But in an environment bursting with opportunity, American men and women viewed themselves as accountable for their own situation through their own achievements—a novel outlook at that time, markedly different from the prevailing attitudes of the Old World (or at least the Continent).
The corollaries of this American ethos were, on the one hand, an affinity for personal enterprise and industry and, on the other, a horror of dependency and contempt for anything that smacked of a mendicant mentality. Although many Americans in earlier times were poor, even people in fairly desperate circumstances were known to refuse help or handouts as an affront to their dignity and independence. People who subsisted on public resources were known as "paupers," and provision for them was a local undertaking. Neither beneficiaries nor recipients held the condition of pauperism in high regard.


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