Why The Entitlement State Is Morally Wrong

An obviously Libertarian blog on Forbes called The Objectivist has a very interesting article in response to all of the discussion over the past few months over how we’re going to pay for the various entitlements (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid), whose costs have been skyrocketing and, by all predictions, will continue to get worse. The interesting thing about the article is the angle it takes to attack entitlements, namely that they’re not morally sound due to the very premise they’re based on:

A person’s need entitles him to other people’s wealth.

Before moving forward, it’s worth pointing out the fine line between Libertarians and Democrats that puts them on opposite sides of the entitlement issue. Democrats believe the premise above because they find it morally untenable to let people in need die in the streets. The fine line is that while Libertarians agree, they also find it morally untenable to forcefully take money from Steve Jobs for Octomom‘s benefit. Libertarians have no issue with Marx’s motto “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” as long as it’s all voluntary. In other words, two wrongs don’t make a right. And The Objectivist article does a great job at explaining that position.

Indentured Servitude

“No system that treats you as other people’s servant can be called moral.” The crux of the matter is the concept that we have to work some part of the time for the benefit of others. Volunteering your time and giving to charity are great ways to help others — but forcing people to do so is slavery. And just like Republicans try to legislate morality via sex and drug laws, Democrats try to legislate morality via entitlement laws  — which, ironically, are immoral.

Indenture certificate



Back when Social Security was started in the 1930s, it was shameful to be “on the dole,” so Social Security was portrayed as insurance: you get back when you’re old what you pay in when you’re young. How much the program is like insurance is another topic, but the main problem with it is that it’s involuntary: the state decides how are you are to use a percentage of your money. And not just that it will go toward your retirement, but how it will be invested until retirement. Which is great if you plan poorly and/or make poor investments, but awful if you’re great at financial planning. The result is that everyone is required to use an at-best mediocre retirement fund, just because it will help the people with no retirements funds, or really poor ones.

The Social Security of comedians



Social safety nets do not have to be government-sponsored. There have always been and always will be charities, whether in the form in families, churches or non-profits. There are plenty of willing contributors, and there is no need to resort to forced charity via entitlement programs. Imagine a world in which the government had Bill Gates’ money instead of the Gates Foundation.

So why do we have entitlement programs? Pride. Most people only try to get help from charities when things are very very bad; when they’re about to end up in the street or their kids go hungry. But they’ll apply for government help a lot more easily. Unemployment, medicaid, food stamps: it’s become pretty common to use those programs if you’re down on your luck, but asking a church for a donation because you lost your job is a huge hit to your pride.

The government, on the other hand, is a faceless behemoth; so we support unemployment insurance, just in case we ever end up without a job, but also because if that really annoying friend Gill loses his job again, he won’t come to ask you for money. Gill doesn’t have to feel the shame of asking for money, and you don’t have to deal with Gill: win/win! Yes Virginia, the real reason we have entitlement programs is to help us avoid awkward situations.

Gil Gunderson from The Simpsons


Punishment For The Innocent

Depriving one group of their freedom because of another group’s choices is immoral. Entitlements deprive people of the freedom of deciding what they would do with their money. Taxes in general do this, but at least everyone gets the same benefit from non-entitlement government services like the military and police. Entitlement programs are different because they target a specific group: if there is a group of people who plan for retirement (let’s call them Greens) and a group that doesn’t (Reds), Social Security targets the latter.

So the Greens lose some of their freedom, because maybe they would’ve invested their Social Security withholding in Apple in 1999, and the Reds lose their freedom because maybe they would’ve invested their withholding in a trip to Cabo. But no one wants the Reds to be allowed to make stupid choices like that, so because they may make bonehead decisions, we all (but especially the Greens) have to deal with Social Security, which is slightly better than having an investment fund in your mattress. It’s like when a teacher punishes the whole class because she didn’t see which kid threw a pencil at her.

Lover's Beach, Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico


The article closes by pointing out that it’s definitely not shameful to be on the dole anymore:

The entitlement state was never needed to ensure that the unable got fed. It is and always has been geared, not to the unable, but to the unwilling: to that entitlement mentality that expects payment “according to his needs.” And by rewarding that mentality, we foster that mentality.

From Forbes


  1. As soon as human began to live in groups, particularly groups that were larger than the immediate families, they found that they needed to establish rules about behavior, property, the privileges of individuals and groups, and how people would survive together. When it comes to politics it is a big deal for us, because there is always conflict about it. They are always comparing their government to other government which is the reason why their is always a misunderstanding about it. Leaders are not the same, they have differences too. Nobody is perfect in this world.

  2. “Taxes in general do this, but at least everyone gets the same benefit from non-entitlement government services like the military and police.”

    If you ever fall on hard times, you can apply and receive entitlements. Whether you apply or not is your choice, but the option is there. It is uniform, as stated in the general welfare clause.

    “Entitlements deprive people of the freedom of deciding what they would do with their money.”

    That would make sense if the government forced you to remain in America. You don’t like paying for entitlements? Leave America and stop giving the government your money. You have a choice.

  3. Americans Prefer Sweden’s Economic Equality | Apt46 - pingback on August 8, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Trackbacks and Pingbacks: