Wednesday, October 10, 2012

If you're entitled, you probably don't deserve it.

What does it mean to be entitled to something?  It used to mean you earned it, and are owed it, and it would be unfair not to give it to you.  Now it means you are demanding something that you have not earned, are not owed, and cannot in fairness be given.  I view this rhetorical shift as a subtle but very destructive development for spending programs that are tied to revenue sources, e.g., social security in America.  Roosevelt famously insisted on tying the benefit to the tax that funded it:
“We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and their unemployment benefits,” he reportedly responded. “With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.”
But if it becomes rhetorically acceptable to use entitlement to mean the opposite of entitlement, this creates a license for the damn politicians to scrap these programs after all.  This is so even if, like social security, such programs are not actually in fiscal straits.  Rhetoric matters, maybe far too much, in politics.  It is all too easy to convince people that entitlements are not deserved, therefore anything called an entitlement can and should be eliminated.  Worse, so long as you use another term to describe other benefits doled out by government, you get a pass from this scrutiny and judgment.  "Tax incentives" is a ready candidate to fil that rhetorical space, as we have seen in this campaign.  

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