Tuesday, February 16, 2016


A few days ago Andrea wrote a post titled "Are You Entitled?" in which she loosed a minor rant about the subject of entitlements and what we are entitled to ... a list that included food, clean water, health care, and education. Her last line pretty much summed it up: "... there is very little we are really entitled to, without working for it, or trying to work for it."

I thought I'd piggyback on Andrea's post with a few comments of my own on the subject of entitlements.

In what passes for current political discourse, the word entitlements is usually spoken with a sneer of disdain by conservatives, who tend to define it as "something given by the government and paid for by a hardworking American to someone who didn't earn it and doesn't deserve it."

Not so fast there, bucko.

Social Security is considered an entitlement program, but I have paid into it my entire working life, and so yes, I believe I'm entitled to the monthly check I'll start drawing soon.

Medicare is also considered an entitlement program ... but because one pays premiums for its coverage, I believe they're entitled to it.

Some would consider my military pension an entitlement ... to which I'm entitled by paying 23 years of my life for it.

Things get more murky when we talk about things to which I think we should all be entitled, but are less clear in funding. I personally believe everyone is entitled to a basic education at least through high school, followed by either a trade school certificate or a collegiate baccalaureate degree. It's true that we'll always need dishwashers and mechanics and street sweepers, but a modern, high-tech world needs people with advanced education to drive the nation forward. I don't think there's a more important investment we can make than universal, free education for all who want it.

I also think we're entitled to air we can breathe, water we can drink, food that's safe to eat, and medicine that's safe to take. If your business pollutes the air, poisons the water, or provides the food we eat and the medicines our doctors prescribe, you should be required to bear the cost of treating your waste and keeping your products safe. Obviously, businesses aren't known for their altruism ... they will pass these costs on to consumers ... but they have to be borne one way or another, because free education doesn't mean much if you're dead.

I also think that everyone is entitled to free basic health care, and I like the idea of something like Bernie Sanders' "Medicare for All" concept, using a single-payer plan funded by a tax in the same way Social Security is funded. I can hear the howls of horror and outrage already as conservatives rail against socialized medicine (whatever that is) in which decisions about our health are made not by doctors but by ... gasp! ... government bureaucrats. The horror! Of course, one might ask what the difference is between decisions made by "government bureaucrats" and decisions made by the "insurance company bureaucrats" that make those decisions now* ... but obviously faceless insurance company bureaucrats represent the triumph of free enterprise, while faceless government bureaucrats represent meddlesome and incompetent government.

I know I've been rambling and sarcastic, but my point is this: there are entitlements and there are entitlements. They all have to be paid for somehow, and so if you're going to thunder about the fiscal horror of entitlements, make sure you understand what type they are, what their benefits are, how they're being funded, and what we get that we pay for.

And now I'm entitled to stop writing.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Case in point: our dentist has gone through hell with our dental insurance company to get paid for the extensive work Agnes has had done in the past year. Over a period of nearly a year, the insurance company rejected our dentist's repeated requests for payment, insisting on more and more documentation, including additional copies of x-rays already submitted, and eventually paying its own estimate of what it thought was the right amount. In the end, our dentist wrote off a significant chunk of his bill ... good news for us, but he's a businessman, after all, and I'd rather he didn't remember having taken a loss on us the next time we go in with dental problems.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

You make a good point: Since when did entitlement become a negatively-loaded word?

Bilbo said...

Let me clarify something that I just re-read now that I'm out of the throes of passion: I should have written that everyone is entitled to "basic health care," not "free basic health care." There's no such thing as a free lunch, not even for something as essential as health care ... doctors and nurses need to make a living, too. The issue is not that it should be "free," but that we should pay for it in a smart way.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

Agreed! And I might add that I have had over 13 doctors in 16 years of living here who have dropped insurance altogether. I have to then switch doctors each time this happens. Now I have 1 doctor I won't leave so I pay out of pocket. Eventually, the doctors get fed up with insurance companies just like us. One was an internist who stated that he was considering leaving insurance alogether because he was being paid so little. He felt to pay his employees, to keep the lights on and to give his employees insurance he isn't living high on the hog or doing what is best for his patients. He lives in a townhome just like me. I admit I was surprised but when I took a minute to think about it, I understood. Insurance won't pay them what they are asking and won't allow them to do what they feel the patient needs. He was so frustrated. He eventually left insurance and I had to leave him. This country is a mess if you ask me. Held together with a hope and a prayer and I'm losing both of late.

Mike said...

Great post. Here's an example of my social security 'entitlement' with some rounded numbers but it gets the point across.

I and my employers paid $100,000 into my SS account over my lifetime. At an average 5% interest over 45 years that would mean I have around $350,000 to $400,000 to draw from. Medicare is paying me back about 5% per year of that amount, what amounts to the interest on my account. When I die Medicare will keep the money in my account.

The real problem is the government has raided the SS fund and spent all that money on other stuff like war. Time for the public to buck up and pay back the money spent on stuff and war. Remember the surtax to pay off the Vietnam war? Time to do that again until all the SS money is sitting there again. No exception for anyone or any company for any reason.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

You made a good point about entitlements, Bilbo; and so did Mike. I saw this happen over and over in Alabama, where certain people get pretty much a free ride on entitlements that others have paid into. Like judges! Some state retirement programs play fast and loose with investments, sometimes going the risky route.

Edwin Frownfelter said...

The term "entitlement" was originally coined to refer to something you have an affirmative expectation of receiving, such as Social Security or a pension, as opposed to a "right," which is a prohibition on the government taking something from you. Thus your entitlement to receive Social Security is distinguished from your right to free speech, which is a prohibition against the government blocking you from speaking. We speak of your right to an attorney when faced with criminal charges, rather than your entitlement, because the way that is enforced is that the government can't go forward with charging you unless you've been furnished with an attorney. There was not any judgment or stigma attached to the term at the time; it was just a way to distinguish between rights inherent in citizenship and expectations that arose through an individual's interaction with the state.