Dear Dr. Hurd: I think we are in a death spiral because of the entitlements [Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Obamacare, etc.]
The more entitlements someone receives, the less they do for themselves, and then the more they resent what others have, and the more entitlements they demand to be provided.
The natural conclusion is pretty clear.
I believe the antidote is in the quote you recently posted by Jim Rohn: “The major value in life is not what you get. The major value in life is what you become. . . . “
It seems if we focus on “becoming,” then “getting” will be less important .. and perhaps envy will diminish as well.
Dr. Hurd’s reply:
Actually, anything you GET in life is precisely because of what you BECOME.
‘Getting’ gets a bad name, just like selfishness and self-interest do. This is because many people seek to get things by irrational means: Deceit, manipulation, force.
For example, one seeks to ‘get’ freebies from the government by living off the backs and productive efforts of others. This leads many to say, ‘See? Getting is the problem. Self-interest is the problem.’
No, they are not. The problem is the means by which one attempts to ‘get.’
Blaming irrational behavior on the desire to get things is kind of like blaming oxygen for murder. ‘If it weren’t for oxygen, people—including criminals—could not breathe.’ So we’re going to blame breathing for evil? It’s absurd, and nobody would claim this.
But it’s just as absurd to blame irrational or unjust behavior on selfishness, or ‘getting.’
The absurdity goes like this:
‘People seek to gain things. If people weren’t selfish, and didn’t seek to gain things, then there would be no mooching, no theft and no injustice.’
But this completely evades the fact that getting, and pursuing self-interest, CAN be done rationally and justly—and indeed, are done so all the time!
Purposeful and voluntary trade, to mutual benefit, is all about self-interest and gain. Each party seeks to gain something from the exchange, and usually does so. Only force or fraud can contaminate the process. If no force or fraud are involved, it’s still possible to make an error. ‘The product I received is just as advertised. But in hindsight I wouldn’t spend the money on it.’ OK, live and learn. But it was still a rational and just exchange, and probably benefits you in the long-run from the learning involved.
The problem with socialist democracy—which America now is, even though most still eschew the term—is that it assumes all attempts at self-interest and ‘getting’ are by definition suspect, and irrational. Of course, nobody ever questions the self-interest of (1) the politicians and bureaucrats who do all the redistribution and (2) the people who get the redistributed wealth.
The unspoken assumption of socialist democracy in America (or anywhere else) is that those who obtain the entitlements are by definition good and just — even though they’re acting in what they believe to be their self-interest. Yet the whole basis for redistributing wealth in the first place is that ‘Self-interest is by definition bad.’ No it’s not—not even according to the socialist democrats. They’re all for self-interest when it’s THEIR constituents and beneficiaries being self-interested.
This is why the whole ‘moral’ argument for the entitlement state rests on an absurd, self-refuting fallacy.
I do agree with the Jim Rohn quote in the following sense: If you haven’t first become something, there’s no value in actually getting something. If you don’t earn your keep, then there’s no value in what you get.
Even if one lives off charity, the charity should be voluntary. Somebody should be giving you the help because he or she judges you as worthwhile, in some sense. To that extent, you arguably earned the help. People are free to enable or reward your irrational behavior, but they should never be forced by the government to do so.
In an entitlement state, you get the help for no reason other than the fact that you’re breathing. You’re entitled to live off of others just because you’re alive. That’s why the entitlement state, as you say, creates a death spiral for a society, not only through fiscal bankruptcy (we’re already there); but through moral, psychological and spiritual bankruptcy as well (that’s in process, and witness the results of economic and general cultural decline).
Psychologically, as you suggest, the entitlement state kills the best within people. Self-responsibility is required of those who will provide it for the sake of those who exercise none. Rational, voluntary generosity goes by the wayside. People who produce and work rightly resent the entitlements. Whether those entitlements are going to deserving people or not isn’t the point. They’re being forced to work 10, 20 or 50 percent of their day for the sake of others.
Our government, at least up until now, has argued, ‘Well, you’re subject to the same entitlements.’ Sure, only once you’re unable or willing to work. This simply reinforces the whole nasty cycle. Society becomes increasingly divided into two groups: Those who produce (either as workers or gigantic achievers, such as a Steve Jobs); and those who reap the benefits of 10, 40 , 50 or even 70 percent of that production.
The very people who produce the funds for Social Security and Medicare could just as easily—indeed, more easily—purchase those benefits (if they want them) in a competitive free market (if government permitted one to exist in those areas). Those who absolutely cannot get by without charity would have access to the same considerable charity available today—which would undoubtedly be greater in a prosperous free market.
Government contaminates everything it touches, outside of its proper role of protecting individual lives and property. Government contaminates charity because it turns it into entitlement, forcibly paid for by those who produce with increasing resentment.
The death spiral comes in when the society starts to go broke, which is now happening. Our economy has been either in a recession or barely registering growth at all for 5 years now. More problems loom as the government prepares to massively increase taxes, impose Obamacare, and continue to issue untold edicts through the executive branch (with likely support from Congress and the Supreme Court). Recession and depression may become the norm, and in a way already are. People don’t like it, but they’re somehow getting used to it.
This is not how a society can be expected to survive. You cannot enslave the productive for the sake of those unwilling or even unable to produce anything. It’s a recipe for a death spiral of epic proportions, especially in the United States which had (and still has) the most to lose.
The higher you rise, the greater the fall. Most of the world still lives in stagnation or poverty. America rose way higher than anyone, and through its transition to socialist democracy is in the process of committing suicide, right before our very eyes. That’s a long, long way to fall. Perhaps the fall is so gradual that most Americans can be counted on not to notice it, or protest it.
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