Dealing With Entitlement Cost Escalation
Entitlement costs are a large and rapidly growing portion of the federal budget. This rapid rate of increase is due in large measure to the fact that the cost of the three largest entitlement programs, namely, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, closely track with the rapidly increasing cost of healthcare, Medicare and Medicaid directly and Social Security by virtue of the fact that its recipients who are the elderly and the disabled have a disproportionally large requirement for healthcare services. Since the rate of growth of entitlement costs greatly exceeds the rate of growth of the economy as a whole, this trend cannot continue over the long term. Fortunately, there is a simple solution.
Eliminate All Entitlements
Let’s consider the advantages of eliminating all entitlements, including subsidies. To begin with, it would solve the problem of paying for the rapidly increasing costs of entitlements. The social safety net, which comprises entitlements, is one component of our Marxist (“from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”) income redistribution system (the other component being taxation), wherein money is collected from people based on their ability to pay and redistributed to individuals based need, thus forcing the productive members of society to bear the burden of taking care of the nonproductive individuals, a system that is clearly unfair unless you subscribe to the Marxist model of resource allocation. In addition to being unfair, our income redistribution system is counterproductive in that it reduces the motivation of those who are being taken care of by the social safety net to seek productive employment, as well as the motivation of the productive members of society to maintain or increase their productivity, due to the increase in the marginal tax rates required in order to pay for the increasing entitlement costs. Dismantling the social safety net would rid this country of the economic parasites that sap the vitality out of our society.
The fact that the social safety net and income redistribution are generally accepted in our society doesn’t mean that the proposal to eliminate them lacks merit, just as the fact that slavery was the norm in the antebellum South did not imply that the ideas expressed by abolitionists were not worthy of consideration. In fact, slavery and income redistribution have this in common: They are both forms of legalized theft, namely, theft of the slaves’ labor by the slave owners in the case of slavery and theft of the fruits of labor of the productive members of society by the government in the case of income redistribution. The fact that slavery (then and there) and income redistribution (now) have (had) such widespread support is tacit testimony to the power of cultural indoctrination.
An additional reason for the popularity of income redistribution, aside from cultural indoctrination which developed over time, is that income redistribution tends to benefit those making below-average income at the expense of those earning above-average income, coupled with the fact that due to the skewed income distribution, a majority of people make below-average income. Thus, a majority of the population benefits from income redistribution in the short and perhaps medium term, although it results in a downward spiral in the long term as an increasingly large fraction of the population becomes dependent upon public assistance, resulting in an ever-greater burden being placed on the remaining productive members of society.
A concomitant of entitlements is government control; he who pays the piper calls the tune. If the present trend of entitlement escalation continues, we will eventually become a caretaker state, wherein although we will be nominally free citizens, we will become de facto wards of the state, where every aspect of our lives will be regulated by the government.
Now, let’s address the arguments made by the proponents of the social safety net. Some assert that taking care of those who are unable to take care of themselves is part of our social contract. Now, a contract, as the term is generally understood to mean, is an arrangement to which all involved parties must agree in order for it to be binding on any one of those parties. Do you recall signing a contract agreeing to allow the government to confiscate part of the fruits of your labor by taxation in order to support the nonproductive members of our society? I certainly don’t.
Another argument made is that we should help the needy because we are a compassionate society. Taken literally, that statement contains a category error; a society cannot be compassionate because only sentient beings can be compassionate and societies are not sentient beings. If we interpret that statement to mean that a majority of the population are compassionate, and those people acted on their compassion by contributing to charities, then charities might be sufficient to help the needy without requiring government assistance. However, an unknown number of those who make such assertions regarding being compassionate do so because it is not socially acceptable for them to admit that they lack compassion for people other than perhaps their friends and family.
One could argue that it would be unfair to terminate the benefits of those currently receiving income from Social Security and Medicare because the beneficiaries paid into the system. I agree. Therefore, I propose that these programs be phased out as follows. First, halt all further payments into these programs. Those who paid into the programs but are not yet eligible to receive benefits should have all of the money that they paid into them returned plus interest at the market rate. Those currently receiving benefits should continue to do so under the conditions existing at the beginning of the phase-out. Finally, those eligible to receive benefits but who haven’t yet chosen to do so should be given the choice of having the money that they paid into the programs refunded with interest or receiving the benefits for which they are currently eligible. The unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare could be paid for, in part at least, by auctioning off all of the government facilities used to administer these programs.
Finally, the question arises as to what is to be done with those people who are unable to take care of themselves and for whom, friends, family, and private charities are insufficient to meet their needs. Should we let them die? I propose that we allow the establishment of euthanasia clinics to provide those who are unable to support themselves with the opportunity for a quick painless death as an alternative to a prolonged suffering death resulting from illness or starvation for those who are unable to pay for food or medical treatment. As an alternative to paying a fee for the service, those who are destitute could sign over the rights to use their organs to sell to hospitals for transplant purposes. Their flesh could be sold as meat to those who are able to overcome their culturally-conditioned aversion to cannibalism. (Cannibalism is no different in principle than organ transplantation, in that in the latter case, dead bodies are cannibalized for parts.) Those who find the idea of people who are unable to support themselves having to resort to euthanasia to be distasteful would be free to set up a charity to help these people.
Some might say that what I propose is Social Darwinism; I’m good with that label. Those who favor capitalism and the free market are willing to allow corporations that are unable to compete in the marketplace to meet their demise. There’s no difference in principle between that and allowing people who are unable to support themselves to meet their demise. It’s just that people, in general, have more empathy for other people than they do for corporations.
I have been accused of being mean-spirited and lacking compassion (as if compassion were an unmitigated virtue) for proposing the elimination of entitlements. Such ad hominem attacks that criticize the messenger rather than addressing the content of the message are usually resorted to by those bereft of a cogent argument and need no further comment.
If the changes proposed herein were to be adopted, the nonproductive members of society and those who lack the skill of long-term planning would be forced to adapt or die. Random acts of violence, which are committed by those seeking a short-term thrill at the cost of a long term in prison, would be virtually eliminated. We would see an end to this pernicious meme of entitlement and a restoration of the work ethic. Our standard of living would increase due to the elimination of economic parasites. Those who survive would be the productive and the prudent. What’s not to like about that? Or would you prefer living in a caretaker state?