What follows is not intended to be an attack on the rich; rather it is a stab at balance and truth. I find it interesting that certain people and political groups rail against entitlements for the needy. Those are often same people who are blanket advocates of the notion that the wealthy are the job creators who will pull us out of the current economic malaise.
For starters let us just dismiss the latter because after more than a decade of lower taxes for the wealthy, the economy is still unacceptably sluggish and jobs that were lost by the millions have yet to recover. That is the truth. The wealthy have enjoyed a fabulous “Tax Holiday” over the last decade and any reasonable person would easily discover that they alone have enjoyed the “grand tour” that included bonuses, houses, cruises, lovely world-class restaurants, high-end cars, avoidance of security lines in airports because they travel on private jets and on and on. Job creation…not so much! But let’s ignore this for now.
Rather, let us remind ourselves that the notion of entitlements is not class specific. It is merely a word carelessly bandied about that is more inclusive than its common usage might suggest. According to the dictionary, entitlement means, “…the right to guaranteed benefits under a government program…”. Whether rich or poor any government act that provides any class of individuals a “guaranteed benefit” is, in fact, an entitlement. Nowhere is the definition time-frame specific. The last time I checked, successful governments are those who are even-handed in their extension of tax-supported largesse. Ironically, the good news is that we as a nation can still pass that test.
The favorite targets of anti-entitlement political and legislative activity are all the usual suspects, Obamacare, social security, unemployment payments, food stamps, housing subsidies, Pell Grants and many more.
But let’s be fair. That is looking at entitlements from only one perspective. In truth, entitlements are all around us and include all Americans wherever they appear on the economic spectrum. Entitlements are not a linear array just for the poor; it is a circle that encompasses more than the popular belief that they are only for the disadvantaged and middle class. Here are a few entitlements (certainly not all) that the government has granted to some other economic demographic. They are neither good nor bad. They are what they are, entitlements:
- Nearly every loophole in the personal and corporate tax codes is an entitlement for the rich;
- Laws that permit stowing billions of dollars in off-shore, tax-free accounts is by definition an entitlement only for people and corporations who have enough money to make it worthwhile…a.k.a. the wealthy;
- Low rates on capital gains and estate taxes are entitlements for the rich;
- Oil and gas subsidies are entitlements for the wealthy that also include foreign nationals;
- The tax rate itself is an entitlement for the rich who as a group actually pay far less per dollar earned or owned than the low or middle class;
- Citizens United, a preposterous (and fully paid for) decision that legalized the unlimited purchase of government influence, is an entitlement for the rich;
- The entire health care industry whether Obamacare or the private sector is largely an entitlement for the rich who own the economically inelastic, criminally-overpriced health care delivery system at every level;
- Industries and individuals that leverage their special access to government to avoid regulation are entitlements by default;
- The defense department and its stable of wealthy contractors some of whom have been selected in a “no-bid” environment is an entitlement for the rich;
- The entire banking system and the well-financed ability to cut government oversight is by default an entitlement for the rich;
- The secretive credit industry that determines how much struggling consumers will pay for borrowed money is an entitlement for the rich because it almost always benefits the rich;
- The recent multi-hundred billion dollar bailout of the financial sector was the largest short term entitlement ever and it was as we are slowly and painfully discovering solely for the benefit of the rich.
And the list goes on.
It is true that if entitlements for the rich were largely ended the wealthy would have less. But when entitlements end for the sick, the poor, the unemployed, the homeless and the aged they are left with nothing. Any democracy that fails to see and act upon that difference is not worthy of the label, democracy. And when it is put into actual legislation and subsequent policy, there can be no real democracy…it morphs into something else but surely not a viable representative democracy.
Whether one supports or dismisses the issue, the anti-entitlement discussion is not a balanced one. It looks at entitlements that benefit only a certain demographic. In effect, it addresses just a small arc in the broad circle of entitlements. Any serious discussion about entitlements should look at the entire circumference and using fairness and the responsibility of government to benefit the many and not just the few, the argument might take on a new meaning, one that is more compatible with the wishes and needs of the vast majority of Americans and as such in greater congruity with the nation’s founding principals.