Saturday’s WSJ had an excellent article discussing whether entitlements are corrupting us or not. Nicholas Eberstadt argues that entitlements are corrupting us, while William Galston argues they are part of the civil contract. I’d like to discuss this argument while framing the discussion with “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” and Ayn Rand.
Entitlements are government transfers to individuals in the form of Social Security, Disability, unemployment payments, and welfare. This is not an all inclusive list, but it gives us the idea of what is represented by the term. Entitlements help to distribute wealth in a more egalitarian manner. The growth of this activity is staggering. In 1960, “U.S. government transfers to individuals totaled about $24 billion in current dollars.” However, in 2010, according to the WSJ, that amount has grown by almost 100 times. “In 2010 alone, government at all levels oversaw a transfer of over $2.2 trillion in money, goods, and services.” We must ask, is this creating a taker’s mentality in the United States?
Or, can we see these entitlement payments as a response to the terrible economic times we are currently experiencing? In reality, are they just opportunities to support the ethos of the past and help to get us through the hard times? The United States has always had a sense of self-reliance. “The proud self-reliance that struck Alexis de Tocqeville in his visit to the U.S. in the early 1830’s extended to personal finances. The American individualism about which he wrote did not exclude social cooperation – the young nation was a hotbed of civic association.” In other words, we worked hard and helped one another. Does large government entitlements support this ethos of the past of does it create something else?
In my opinion, if we just give entitlements to people with no expectation we will create a reservation mentality. In other words people will desire to “hang around the fort for government handouts.” Entitlements are a hinderance if the only form of action. Entitlements are just as exploitive and destructive as unfettered capitalism.
Freire in his classic defines the “pedagogy of the oppressed” as a dehumanized relationship between those in power and those who are not. The key word in the above sentence is dehumanized. Freire states, “They cannot see that, in the egoist pursuit of having as a possessing class, they suffocate in their own possessions and no longer are; they merely have.” These individuals lose their humanity by giving into the system of consumption. To maintain this system, they oppress those who do not have because they did not earn the stuff. Freire then believes a system is created to maintain status quo, so those that have will keep, and those that don’t will be kept in their poverty.
The possessors then use available systems to ensure that the lazy folks stay in their place. “If others do not have more, it is because they are incompetent and lazy, and worst of all is their unjustifiable ingratitude towards the generous gestures of the dominant class. Precisely because they are ungrateful and envious the oppressed are regarded as potential enemies that must be watched.”
I do think Freire has a point. Many I talk to seek to blame an economic system for this oppression, but I think this is incorrect. Freire does not blame economics, but the interaction of people. A system of entitlements is just as oppressive as unrestrained capitalistic pursuit. The oppressor is large government in this case, creating a dependence on benevolent big brother.
Ayn Rand was a philosopher and anticommunist. She explored the concept of objectivism, individual rights, and rational self-interest. In “Atlas Shrugged,” she explores a United States where the movers decide they will not be taxed by the government. During the first part of the book one question is constantly asked, who is John Galt? Eventually we find out that Galt is the individual who leads the strike that, “stops the motor of the world.” I have just started this book, and I am sure I will write more.
What is my point? Ontology of humanity is central to our existence. Humanity needs purpose. Therefore, dehumanization occurs through the process of limiting our ability to find purpose. An economic system based in cronyism creates a non-egalitarian event that is oppressive, which is what Marx discussed. Therefore, free marketers need to be aware of this and respond by self-policing commerce. However, a system of entitlements create the same type of oppression. If the entitlement system our government proposes is left unchallenged America will become one large reservation where we are all hanging around the fort waiting for our monthly checks. Talk about oppression.
And that is my thought for the day!