Why the entitlement state?

Armstrong Williams | 12/6/2012, 12:48 p.m.
At Thanksgiving, embracing the winds of change and increasing our faith

I was walking by the Democratic National Headquarters recently on Capitol Hill, and I saw a sign on their windows that read, "END MEDICARE. VOTE REPUBLICAN."

I found this curious. To my knowledge, no Republican in decades has proposed something like that. I also was reminded of how the Democrats justify their own spending, often with tales of Republican profligacy, most notably with the $13 trillion Medicare Part D entitlement.

Since no one is actually proposing this, this sign is effectively a lie.

I had to ask, however, why not? Why won't they propose something like this? In other words, what are the arguments for the entitlement state? We take it for granted that we have one, and we don't even ask anymore why it exists.

Now might be a good time to do so, with the fiscal cliff negotiations taking place and prominent office-seeking Republicans panning Mitt Romney's explanation that the president was re-elected because of "gifts."

The arguments for entitlements are usually moral arguments, never economic arguments. No one thinks that it's good for our economy, even the most reality-phobic Keynesian. It is never "this will work and we'll all prosper," but always presented to us in moral guise: "Don't throw Grammaw off the cliff!"

And because this is a moral argument, Democrats and their Republican enablers are simply not interested in economic issues, like the cost of the transfers, the bureaucracy necessary or the drag on the economy from taxing productive citizens. They don't care how many trillions we owe to the Chinese; they care about "fairness," that magic word.

So we must consider this argument in moral, rather than economic terms. What is their case? Well, they say we have to take care of our own. They might also say, as fewer and fewer in our society do, that the Lord commands us to care for the weak, and that whatsoever we do to the least of our brethren will be read to us on Judgment Day by the Lord.

Well, unless I am mistaken, there is nothing in the Bible about rendering unto Caesar that Caesar might render unto Lazarus. The rich man who ignores Lazarus goes to hell not because he had a slick tax lawyer to find loopholes for him, but because there was a poor man on his doorstep that he ignored.

In other words, this is an enthymeme, an argument with a hidden premise, and that premise is that it's the government's job, not yours, to care for the poor. Does that sound moral to anyone?

Another moral argument--one that, in contrast to the previous one, we hear more and more--might be just the inverse: It's not right that some people have it easy. To use the biblical example, it's not fair that the rich man eats while Lazarus is licked by dogs.

It's important to remember that the evil in this scenario is not the rich man eating but Lazarus not eating. It is not evil to be rich, but suffering is an evil that some must endure. So we're back where we started: We should not be complicit in the suffering of others if we can relieve it. But, as in the previous argument, is it the government's job?