Monday, February 21, 2011

What Does "Entitlement" mean?

This topic has been bothering me for a long time. People speak about a "Culture of Entitlement" as though it is something dreadful to be avoided. How has the word "entitlement" become derogatory? Are beneficiaries of programs such as Social Security and Medicare unworthy of the benefits they receive? What's in a word, anyway? Can such words actually influence national policy?

Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia on-line, defines a "Culture of Entitlement" as an expression "often used to criticize perceived abuses ..." Wikipedia goes on to say that "critics of a culture of entitlement often believe that the free the most responsible approach to correcting these inequities...The phrase often implies that the recipients of government entitlements are individuals that do not deserve to receive such benefits or entitlements."

In my view (and I don't think I am alone in this), two of the most successful Federal programs of all time are Social Security and Medicare. They have helped to end poverty among American seniors. To me, they reflect the best of what America is all about–because, when all the noise dies away, Americans are among the most generous of peoples.

And yet, Social Security and Medicare are now viewed by many Americans as "entitlements." How did this happen? And why should we care?

Among, a growing segment of our citizens, these programs offend the deeply held belief that government should keep its grubby hands off such things. Folks with this ideology have been trying for decades to destroy these programs.

They have done this, and are doing this, by undermining public confidence in Social Security and Medicare whenever and however they can. Inventing and promoting the phrase "Culture of Entitlement" is an important part of this strategy.

And it is working. Think about it. These kind and benevolent programs, totally in keeping with the Judeo/Christian value system, have been branded with a term that has pejorative connotations. Instead of a gift from one generation to the next, the word "entitlements" somehow smacks of undeserved and unearned greed. And much of the media has stampeded to the use of the word “entitlements” in all of its printed and electronic output.

How thoughtless can these journalists and, yes, of many of our politicians be, in planting the seeds of doubt in the minds of fellow Americans. In so doing, they play right into the hands of those seeking to destroy Social Security and Medicare.

These programs may or may not really need a financial fix. Its hard for most folks to cut through the decibel levels and emotion of whoever is speaking loudest each day on the topic. Some say that the financial crisis for these programs is just trumped up noise by those opposed for ideological reasons—that they can be rendered fiscally sound for many generations to come with a rather minor tax increase. Others shout about the coming deluge that failure to fix these programs will foist upon American citizens, and that reduction in benefits is the answer. Who is right?

I'm not in position to get past the daily propaganda and make a proper judgment. However, if we start with the attitude that senior citizens are somehow not really “entitled” to the benefits of these programs, and if we buy into the notion that they are hurting the general economy, then heaven help our younger and middle-aged citizens when they too, inevitably, get old.

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