Entitlements

At present we here in the United States are in an interesting situation.

This whole year our elected representatives have been wrangling over the budget — first with the showdown over the shutdown, and now with the debt ceiling high noon. And much of the discussion has centered not on bringing more money in, but cutting the money that’s going out, usually focusing on “entitlements.”

There has been discussion of cutting all Title X funding for women’s health on the basis of “no taxpayer money for abortions,” even though none of the Title X money goes to abortions at all. There have also been proposals to effectively defund the Environmental Agency, specifically making it illegal to regulate greenhouse gasses. And most significantly there have been “bold” proposals for cutting or even effectively privatizing Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security over time, never mind that these measures would almost certainly increase costs for the poor and elderly and thus completely gut the main mission of those organizations.

Note that many of these issues are still in contention — some guaranteed not to pass, others being used as bargaining chips. Both parties, however, are agreeing to major cuts in the so-called “entitlement programs” that (mostly) benefit older and poorer folks; the difference between the parties’ positions is only in how much they’ll cut, not if. Note that the parties are also united in deregulating major industries, such as banking and telecommunications — again only differing in degree. And while President Obama has proposed raising taxes, he had the opportunity to do exactly that some months ago and, quite simply, didn’t — meaning that the parties, in deed at least, are also united on cutting taxes. Continue reading

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They Must Be Fed

There’s considerable debate these days about the role of government. This is nothing new, really; Ronald Reagan famously declared that “government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem,” and the 1932 presidential election was essentially a referendum on whether or not the federal government should intervene in the Great Depression. However the rise of the Tea Party in the United States has now brought the old questions back to the fore, and they are always worth discussing — in particular the use of government funds to feed the poor.

First, let me say that I am not automatically a huge fan of government.

Governments, after all, are capable of perpetrating enormous crimes. The greatest murderers on record — Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong — were not exactly libertarians. Without going to such extremes, however, every government perpetrates small crimes against its citizens: “the insolence of office, the law’s delay,” Hamlet laments in his famous speech, and anyone who has dealt with the DMV or dealt with legal proceedings knows what he meant. And, perhaps nearest to the Tea Party’s heart, governments almost universally insist on that redistribution of wealth called taxation. As Terry Pratchett put it, if you steal a small amount of money, you’re a thief; steal millions and you’re probably a government. [Paraphrased from “Going Postal,” pg. 10] Continue reading