Entitlements Never Looked So Good
In his recent Townhall column, Dennis Prager says he opposes health care reform on the grounds that “the bigger the government becomes, the smaller the individual citizen becomes.” By showering the less fortunate with such luxuries as basic health insurance, a decent education, and help paying the rent, big government creates a sense of entitlement, which Prager says tends to make citizens selfish and lazy.
Prager seems to believe, along with Glenn Beck, that individual merit alone determines economic outcomes. While Prager acknowledges that “life is tragic and some people . . . must have others support them,” most people are, in his view, able to take care of themselves and must choose whether to “do so” or to “rely on others.” Those who chose the latter – people receiving food stamps, Medicaid, or Pell Grants, for example – lack virtue. Since we want the government to reward “good” behavior and discourage its opposite, it follows that entitlements are counterproductive.
There are currently 47 million Americans who lack insurance. That is a whole lot of selfish, lazy people. Still, Prager describes “disdain for work” as a distinctly European trait:
One of the effects of the welfare state on vast numbers of European citizens is disdain for work. This is in keeping with Marx’s view of utopia as a time when people will work very little and devote their large amounts of non-working time writing poetry and engaging in other such lofty pursuits. Work is not regarded by the left as ennobling. It is highly ennobling in the American value system, however.
Unlike Americans, Europeans live in a welfare state, and do not have to constantly worry about meeting basic needs. As the result, Europeans have the energy to engage in “lofty pursuits” such as writing poetry and occasionally going on vacation (“vacation time has become a moral value among many Europeans”). Unlike Europeans, Americans – or at least those Americans who desire basic health care — receive almost no time off, and spend their time exclusively on profit-making pursuits. The American system “ennobles” people even as it makes them miserable, or so it seems.
So much for the laziness part, what about selfishness? Under the European system, not only are my basic needs provided for, so are yours, rendering charity and volunteer time unnecessary:
Not only does bigger government teach people not to take care of themselves, it teaches them not to take of others. Smaller government is the primary reason Americans give more charity and volunteer more time per capita than do Europeans living in welfare states. Why take care of your fellow citizen, or even your family, when the government will do it for you?
America continues to tolerate a high degree of economic inequality. We should not, however, use politics to do anything about this, since that would be selfish. If there were fewer poor people, we would not have to spend as much time taking care of them – apparently leaving us with even more time to write poetry and vacation, all of which would are undesirable.
Apparently as well, Europe’s “preoccupation with self” includes foreign policy: “Why care about, let alone risk dying for, another country’s liberty?” Since Europeans spend so much time writing poetry and vacationing, it appears they cannot be bothered to help the US invade Iraq, a selfless pursuit that happened to involve false pretenses and a lot of killing.
Death-panels and pulling the plug on grandma were one thing, but if health care reform means fewer work hours, more economic stability, and less war, then it is even more beneficial than I had previously supposed.