Thursday, March 19, 2009

Entitlements for the Rich?

Before the dismantling of welfare and shredding the social safety net, decryng “entitlements” was a right-wing rallying cry. Political capital could be gained stoking resentment against so-called welfare queens.

Now it’s the ultra-wealthy who feel they entitled. AIG Execs are getting multi-million dollar bonuses from the public trough. They seem to believe that ordinary, hardworking people have an obligation to support them---in the style to which they’d like to become accustomed.

The founders had their own ideas about entitlements. Section Ten of Article I of the U.S. Constitution assures that “No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

America’s founders were opposed to the idea that some men were “entitled” to rule over others, as dukes or princes. Although some believed there might be a natural aristocracy of talent and hard work, no one was born with special privileges—or “entitled” to live off the sweat and toil of other men.

Look at the domicile of a man like John Adams—who did believe in natural aristocracy. Visit the homestead managed by the National Park Service in Quincy, Massachusetts, and you’ll find a comfortable and spacious but otherwise modest home. Visit Mount Vernon in Virginia. At 7,000 square feet, it’s big. But then contrast Washington’s home with Versailles—or with Bill Gates’ 48,000 square foot “Xanadu” outside Seattle. There’s no comparison.

Things have gotten out of whack when American CEO’s earn 400 times as much as their workers. Or when Allen Stanford can have himself knighted by the island nation of Barbuda, calling himself “Sir,” while stealing other’s hard-earned cash.

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously remarked that “the rich are different from you and me.” But no, they’re not different. They’re not necessarily more intelligent or more talented. Many are just more unscrupulous and greedy.

Benjamin Franklin believed that a man was “entitled” to whatever possessions were necessary for his own maintenance, but beyond that “all Property superfluous to such purposes is the Property of the Publick.” Following Franklin’s philosophy, let’s get back those AIG bonuses. And while we’re at it, stop “welfare” for the rich.


bpabbott said...

Excellent post!

In my opinion, the left and the right are each responsible for supporting financial entitlements for those who should shoulder the burden themselves.

At the same time, the goverment's budget is so burdened with supporting entitlements that creation of opportunity and infrastructure isn't practical.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I know you're new here, Gary, and your contributions have been ace: this blog is about religion and the Founding.

I looked up the source: Your quote from Franklin suggests he was some sort of socialist, but he was not. It was about people dodging taxes, and that's a no-no for any honorable man.

Of course the Obama administration has made a tax-dodger the Secretary of the Treasury.

I write this only by way of illustration: Do we really want to turn this blog into a partisan slugfest? We've avoided that so far, to the credit of all of us here gathered. Do we want to turn into Hannity vs. Olbermann? Let's rethink this sort of thing.

timpanogos said...

I visited Mt. Vernon last week, and loved this story: Queen Elizabeth II visited, and at the conclusion of her tour said, "What a lovely little cottage!"