Fuh-fuh-fantastic article. And I don’t know why I said it like that.
Suppose that you were a police officer who moved in on a major theft racket that involved thousands of people. You arrest the perpetrators and question them, whereupon they nonchalantly tell you the secret incentive that drew hordes of loot-seekers into their racket.
They had agreed amongst themselves that new recruits would steal from victims on the outside and then turn the loot over to older members. The older members would assist the newer members in the commission of the thefts, and some of the loot would be used to buy off key law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, witnesses, and others in order to assist the racket or protect it from trouble. After a time, the newer members became older members entitled to take from the new recruits. The loot turned out to be larger in size than your state’s economy.
Disgusted, you move to start identifying the stolen goods and return them to their owners. The elder thieves immediately become outraged and demand that you stop. “That’s ours! We worked for several years to get that stuff, and we need it,” they insist. “This is not your property. You took it from someone else. What about the needs of the owners?” you ask incredulously. “Fine,” they respond indignantly. “Then just send me a check for the value of all the goods I have ever lifted in my life, and then you can do whatever you want with the stuff!”
This sounds like the punch line to a bad joke, but this scenario is analogous to the largest theft racket in history – the U.S. entitlement programs – and what you have just read is in fact the precise reaction of its defenders. Many people are so submerged in the entitlement system that they cast aside their ethical judgment to defend what is obviously robbery. The entitlement programs are the forced redistribution of wealth from the working young to the non-working elderly.
If you object that there is a moral difference between a criminal theft racket and the entitlement programs, you might fire off a number of superficial dissimilarities between them. However, your ultimate argument, the one that manufactures a fundamental distinction between the two and which is the most accepted line of defense of the entitlements in the United States today, will be a monstrous philosophical concept called the social contract.
This is the notion that there is a metaphysical agreement between individuals in a society which legitimates the actions of their agent, the government. There is a contract out there apart from and superior to the explicit agreement of individuals, or at least we can go ahead and act as if there were, because everyone in a society has consented to be in it with all its conditions by the fact of their living there, or it’s in our own best interests to agree to society’s laws to get the benefits of living in it. Therefore, whatever has happened, we have consented to it because it is part of our contract.
In the debates leading to the founding of the United States, however, a competing theory emerged victorious: Government is only legitimate insofar as it is consistent with natural law, i.e., protective of the individual rights of man, in accordance with his nature. Government which violates the rights of man is not legitimate. This elegant idea appeals to the sense of justice in all self-respecting people, but there is a more fundamental reason why social contract theory lost in the war of ideas.
There is obviously no social contract. It does not exist. As the old Nominalist philosophers might have said, we have looked around and we don’t see any “social contract” anywhere. It is an artificial intellectual construct, and it is designed to legitimize evil political actions: The involuntary subordination of the individual to any rationally unjustifiable edict which the king, the nation-state, or the majority of voters may make.
In reality, there are only individual contracts, or contracts between groups of individuals who have actively, legally organized as a group. There are signatures on documents to prove it. Any other type of contract is imaginary. To pretend that there is some sort of mass agreement amongst 300 million total strangers is psychotic.
Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are not part of a “contract.” They are not “agreements.” No one agreed to these programs. They are tax-and-spend programs imposed on the population, and the workers of today are not legally obligated to pay anyone anything.
Realizing this, some fall back on a moral trope about “keeping promises” to the elderly vis-à-vis public safety nets. To be blunt, it is absurd and shamelessly parasitic to claim that people who came after you promised you something earlier in your life. It is equally absurd and shamelessly parasitic to expect that someone has the right to promise you someone else’s money. I certainly never made any such promise to anyone, and you have no right to speak for me. My wallet is not your wallet, and nothing justifies your robbing it – even if you think I am a heartless meanie who should just be more social-minded.
Any politician who “promised” transfer payments to their constituents acted immorally, and no one should have accepted that promise. Everyone should have opposed it on principle. The only kind of promise a politician should ever make is to protect your rights from the initiation of force or fraud. Frankly, if politicians have led their salivating constituents to big disappointment, this was predictable and no less than they deserve. There is no honor among thieves, and you can’t cheat an honest man.
The entitlement programs came about because some individuals long ago decided they wanted other people’s property badly enough to harangue the politicians of the day into providing it. Those people and those politicians are now dead. Their descendants are now literally paying for their rapacity.
For Social Security, the chain of serfdom is especially ridiculous. One group of people, the elderly poor of the 1930’s (and their do-gooding proxies), convinced a second group of people, the politicians of 1930’s, to tax a third group of people, the younger generations of the 1930’s. The third group is mostly gone, but before they died, they extracted money involuntarily from a fourth group of people, those who now are in or entering retirement. Group four is now extracting money involuntarily from a fifth group of people, the workers of today.
In every generation, there have been people who are committed to this system of organized robbery. There have also been people who are against it. Do not pretend otherwise.
However, just because people did not consent to a system of forced redistribution does not mean they are blameless. America is a democratic constitutional republic. People can persuade their fellow voters and demand of their politicians the abolition of such programs. If their politicians do not comply, the people can remove them from power and vote in politicians willing to do the job. There are a thousand reasons one can give for why most people have not bothered to do so throughout their lives, but there really is no excuse.
The entitlement programs must end, and citizens are morally obligated to see to it that they are sunsetted.