Rights and Entitlements

Many Americans understand the elements of Natural Law that form the basis of their freedoms, constitutional law that protects those freedoms’ existence from government infringement, and statutes that protect them from the infringement of others. Government exists solely to protect our rights – from itself and from each other. It does not exist to give us everything we feel we need or want, two things that are entirely in the eye of the beholder, because that is simply a mathematically unsustainable approach that guarantees inappropriate intrusions and eventual failure.

Unfortunately, I often find that many of us do not appreciate this critical relationship, this hierarchy of liberty. Typically, this characteristic manifests in the form of simple misunderstandings, most commonly regarding the difference between rights and entitlements.

A right and an entitlement, though often enough advertised as synonymous, are not the same thing. As a society we tend to narrowly focus on instant gratification which subsequently leads us to expect and, in fact, demand entitlements that are not rightfully ours to expect. The politicians within the oligarchy know and understand this popular ignorance well, and prey upon it to fulfill their lust to dominate, their desire to control, and their need to impose their respective wills.

We must shed this growing superficial dependency on government entitlements and pursue a truer course, one which focuses on the understanding of our actual rights and what they substantively mean to individual, social, and economic freedom. To properly safeguard the blessings of our liberty for ourselves and future generations we must comprehend what our natural rights consist of in principle and how they differ from the tangible programs that the ruling class seeks to purposefully confuse them with. Dependency is one of the key ingredients to subjugation, a topic I will expound upon in a later post…

For example, we each possess a natural right to work but are not entitled to a job. What this means is that a free people have every right to work and subsequently enjoy the fruits of their labor without fear of government discrimination of any kind but this does not mean that government has a responsibility to provide us all with jobs or sustenance.* How can this be done in such a way that facilitates a person’s freedom to choose his or her own path? If we open the doors to a society where the government is the sole responsible entity for providing jobs then we affectively allow the government to decide what we do, for what wage, and for how long. Individual liberty requires independence which in turn requires self-reliability and personal drive.

*To be clear, I am not referring to a willful exchange of services between private and public entities or even programs which serve to legitimately help those in dire need from time to time – I am referring primarily to perpetual handout programs, new and old, which artificially prop up individuals, businesses, industries, and enterprises who, through their own actions, have demonstrated a sense of entitlement that overrules their respective senses of self-reliance and economically sound decision making.

We are also endowed with the right to pursue happiness but are in no way legitimately entitled to it. This right acknowledges that government must not intrude upon our pursuits in life, as in our self-chosen path(s) to a desired goal, but it does not mean that government is responsible for fulfilling these wishes for us. Government is supposed to leave us alone to do as we wish, provided our actions do not infringe upon the natural rights of others, and to punish others for interfering with us accordingly. But it cannot possibly satisfy everyone’s subjective definitions of happiness – which is precisely why it is supposed to be an individual (or at least a willingly cooperative) pursuit in the first place. Besides, can anyone honestly say that they would rather have the government determining what constitutes happiness for them?

We each have a natural right to pursue and earn a higher education but are not entitled to a degree or certificate. These things are tangible representations of one’s individual work ethic, critical thinking skills, ability to synthesize and digest information, and ability to meet established requirements or criteria in a given subject area. If we wish to, we each should be, and largely are, free to pursue an education without fear of discrimination or opposition but this alone does not guarantee that we will make the cut, so to speak. If we want the end result, we have every right to study hard for and earn it, but earn it we must as we are not entitled to a handout in this or any other form.

The list virtually goes on and on, from health care to wealth, from owning a home to personal retirement. We have every right to pursue such things but are not naturally entitled to government-sponsored issuance programs that come at the expense of others – which all do, as government cannot and does not produce anything on its own. While most reasonable people, myself included, can support a hand up to certain disadvantaged individuals, our gradual misinterpretation of entitlements as fundamental rights have led us to a near-catastrophic tipping point from which individual liberty and fiscal responsibility have come to mean next to nothing. Make no mistake; freedom on paper means nothing without the economic security that history illustrates is necessary to facilitate it.

Rights are derived from inherent concepts intended to eliminate or mitigate induced obstacles to a person’s own authority over self-determination and pursuit of prosperity, not to provide for every single subjective public demand or desire as judged appropriate by an elected bureaucracy. This approach is a direct contributor to why there is so much corruption, so many special interest juggernauts, and so few politicians with actual integrity in our government today.

This confusion over rights and entitlements has led us astray as a free society. We must recognize the underlying principle of what exactly our natural rights consist of and why they exist in order to properly secure ourselves against the liberty destroying, populist-abusing kleptocracy. Without this difficult but principled approach, we are institutionally guaranteeing that the hocus pocus will continue until we have brought the entire experiment in individual liberty crashing down around us.


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  1. #1 by Allen on April 6, 2011 - 7:14 PM

    You make very good points here and I agree with most of what you’ve said but I believe an argument can be made about at what point ones own rights have been intruded upon by anothers and when and to what degree government intervention should take place. An excellent example of this is the “tuition creep” afflicting nationwide colleges. Is the rising costs of tuition for both private and non-private colleges an intrusion on a citizens right to pursue higher education by setting tuition at rates which only middle class citizens can afford? The option of a student loan essentially places a citizen in a form of inedentured servitude where the individual uses skills learned from a college to pay his or her debt from learning said skills eventually paying for their freedom.

    Of course all this is also open to debate, I’m only trying to present an argument and not any form of correction. I really enjoy reading your essays; it’s refreshing to see an objective take on things.

    • #2 by The Observer on April 6, 2011 - 8:45 PM

      You raise an interesting point certainly. There are many forms of freedom. I typically tend to focus on freedoms associated with independence from direct government intrusions and the like when I opine here but economic freedom is often the most elusive of these many forms.

      On a moral level, I detest the fact that educations are so expensive (I am currently trying to figure out an economic plan for graduate studies myself). On the other hand I am very much a free market advocate so I tend to naturally oppose government intervention into a given market in most of its forms. If the prohibitively expensive tuition is directly related to a lack of demand or attendance shortfalls, then I think that the market must work this out for itself. If the tuition is artificially inflated – due perhaps to ridiculous research projects or exorbitant staff salaries (these are of course subjective) for example – then I would say that you may be on to something. I must admit, I certainly do not possess intimate knowledge of where the average college’s revenue goes so you have really breached a challenging subject. I do think it funny, however, that tax breaks for oil companies tend to get many people riled up but colleges and universities are generally completely tax-exempt entities, and it is not as if they do not pull in the cash. Do not get me wrong, I am an opponent of corporate welfare, but I still think it is a bit of a double standard – after all both industries market commodities that on principle are not entitlements but in practicality we often cannot do without in the grand scheme of things.

      At any rate, I do have two immediate observations. One, I know that some scholarships are awarded in a manner that is not in keeping with the spirit of the mechanism. For example, Ralph Nader recently advocated for the elimination of athletic scholarships. While I don’t concur with the broadness of his idea, I do think it is a little silly that said scholarships were intended to help physically gifted young men and women achieve an education where they otherwise could not financially, but over the years we see more and more “blue chip” athletes who are the children of former professional athletes (or other middle- to upper-class families) receive these scholarships. The parents of these folks in most cases can, or at least should be able to, afford these degree programs. Obviously the difference is made up in large part by athletic revenue one would think, but it stands to reason that at least some of this approach impacts tuition for regular folks. At the very least it robs a disadvantaged young person of an opportunity because each school has a yearly cap on scholarships that they can award. I also dislike it when universities raise tuition while at the same time hire and pay coaches upwards of several million dollars in some cases (and this is saying something because I am a HUGE college basketball fan). It is kind of hard for a university to engender sympathy in tough times such as these when John Calipari is making $4 million a year to coach basketball. To be fair, my guy is on this list too…

    • #3 by The Observer on April 7, 2011 - 6:30 AM

      In my initial haste to respond I neglected to thank you for your kind words. For that I do apologize, and thank you kindly.

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