Benefits and entitlements, are they one and the same or are they different breeds of animals? There seems to be a trend for those in the bureaucracy of federal (and even state) government toward calling anything they pay out to citizens as entitlements. Now, I'm not sure. Is it because I'm becoming a crotchety old man (NOT)? Or, is it because those in the elected offices, their high ranking appointees and the massive legion of high level bureaucrats are using governmentspeak or doublespeak to get us to believe something that isn't true.
Would this be the first time the government has attempted (and often succeeded) in duping the "flock?" I think not. That is a huge topic for another time. However, as humans, we are basically pack animals. Although, it's probably more accurate to say we're like flock or herd animals. Watch cattle in the pasture sometime. When it's milking time they all line up one behind the other and follow the leader right into the milk barn. A new word becomes the "in" word to use in the pop culture - cool, dude, awesome, right on, righteous, bro, etc. All of a sudden, it slips into our vocabulary and pretty soon we're all using it.
So, if the government keeps using the word "entitlements" when referring to any payouts to citizens that have qualified to receive earned benefite payments, will we all eventually begin to accept that word for everything? I guess we could call it the "Word Game," only this game is controlled by government doublespeak.
Now, I, for one, have a pretty good idea of the difference between a benefit and an entitlement and I don't much like the definitions being crossed over and made fuzzy.
When it comes to certain payments made to individual citizens by the government, I go with this dictionary definition: " a payment or service provided for under an annuity, pension plan, or insurance policy" from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. In other words, the individual invested or paid into some kind of fund by contractual arrangement with the long term benefit being some kind of payment after meeting the investment requirements of the contract. In the case of the government, I'm referring, more specifically, to such programs as Social Security and Medicare.
Most U.S. citizens have had to invest (involuntarily, I might add) into the Social Security Trust Fund and Medicare year after year at a combined rate of 15.3% of the total income. I know many will say that the employee only pays half that amount and the employer pays the other half. But, let's be realistic. The employer could pay you the other half and you'd pay the full 15.3% just as self-employed individuals do or to put it another way, if the employer was not required to pay the 7.65% the government would dock your paycheck for it. This is yet, another way of distracting you from reality and the truth.
The bottom line is that just about everyone working on the books for any business or as a self-employed individual will pay a combined 15.3% of which 12.4% goes to the Social Security Trust Fund until (at the current ceiling) your annual salary reaches $113,700.00. Next year that increases to $117,000.00. The balance of 2.9% goes to the Medicare fund and there is no salary ceiling for the Medicare deducted from your salary.
The point? You and I have invested (paid) into these accounts, involuntarily (we had no choice under the law). There is the implied contract that when you reach a certain age (typically defined as the "age of retirement) you will begin drawing a "benefit" from your Social Security account based on how much you contributed to your account over your lifetime.
You'll also be eligible to take advantage of the Medicare health benefit Part A that covers hospitals, nursing homes, hospice and such. Optionally, you may pay a nominal monthly premium to the government to receive Part B benefits that cover doctors, tests and a myriad of other medical necessities. In other words, Medicare is a form of health insurance policy that you've partially prepaid and continue to pay into.
This is no different than you investing your funds in a 401K, IRA or other qualified pension fund. You receive a lifetime benefit based on how much you invested. And the Medicare insurance is similar to an employer or a private healthcare insurance policy from a private insurer. You have invested in and are due to receive the benefits you "contracted" for based on the terms of the contracts.
So, now, let's look at entitlements. The Merriam-Webster definition that comes closest to government entitlement programs is: "a type of financial help provided by the government for members of a particular group." In other words the recipients of this government help have not invested in the programs that provide these various forms of help. This is different than those receiving Social Security and Medicare benefits, for which they involuntarily contributed throughout their working lifetime.
So, these funds come from funding provided by other citizens who have part of their tax money given to people who haven't been able to or just didn't contribute to the programs. I'm sorry! But, I see a significant difference between a plan someone has invested in, earned and is now receiving the "benefit" of that lifelong investment and an "entitlement," where someone is benefiting from the system and from everyone else's productivity, but hasn't contributed into the system themselves.
So, I vehemently object to my Social Security check and my Medicare insurance being lumped in with social entitlement programs in order to make me and others receiving our "benefits" feel guilty. After a lifetime of contributions, we're NOT "takers" living off the public. And that, in my opinion is what our elected officials, their high ranking appointees and so on are attempting to do with their government doublespeak.
The reality is that the government has plundered the trust funds for these two benefits (and others). They were not just bad stewards of "OUR" money; they essentially have turned it into a new form of Ponzi Scheme. It makes Madoff's scheme look like he was a novice.
Our Social Security checks aren't coming from the compounded earnings of our "invested" contributions of 40 or more years. Our Social Security is coming from the pockets of our children's and grandchildren's generation. But, we're supposed to feel guilty because the government has bumfuzzled the public. They are trying to blame us for their incompetence and disregard for the law.
The point is simple. We deserve the benefits we invested in and earned, period! Our children and grandchildren shouldn't have to pay for our benefits, they should be investing in their own benefits. But, like all Ponzi Schemes, someday this is going to come crashing down and lots of people are going to be hurt by it. Governments are, by nature, fiscally irresponsible because they aren't spending their own money. They don't have any money. They're spending our money. If they need more, they blame the public, take things away and raise taxes or create new taxes so it doesn't look like they're raising taxes. It's simply a shell game and we . . . are the marks.
Don't get me wrong. I don't mind helping other people out. I believe we live in a great country where we do care about those who are less fortunate. But, I don't believe, other than in a few specific instances, that we should be taking care of people for all or most of their lives. Everyone can do something to contribute to society. I truly care about those who are in unfortunate situations. Unfortunately, some people in our society have not only allowed themselves to fall into these situations, but planned to take advantage of the system. Call it gaming the system if you will.
We are a very generous country. And, interestingly, those who seem to have less than others are often the most generous and charitable. I know some very wealthy philanthropists, many who give away sizeable amounts of money anonymously every year. But, too many of those we know are extremely wealthy work closely with their tax accountants to gain the maximum, personal, financial advantage for their charitable contributions. In other words, they want to be "rewarded" for being charitable.
Private Help Organizations
There are also numerous organizations, faith-based and secular, that provide all kinds of programs to help those who have fallen on hard times. The Mormon Church, for example, has their own form of welfare program within the church. I don't believe they call it welfare, though. They help their people regain their footing and climb back up again and be productive members of both the church and society as a whole. The Salvation Army is another such organization. There are also "pay it forward" programs. Someone is helped with the expectation they will reach out, once back on their own feet, to help one or more others in a time of need.
Certainly, we have people who have become disabled in one manner or another. This is a very unfortunate circumstance, especially if the person is relatively young. It's even harder if they have a young family. Unfortunately, there are some people who get into the disability roles by gaming the system and live off the public dole for the rest of their lives. Meanwhile, others get assistance from the disability programs and learn new skills or find other ways to help themselves regain some degree of productivity, self-esteem and dignity.
There, But For The Grace Of God, Go I!
Hey! For all I know, I may be "entitled" to some of these entitlement programs. I guess I could even play the system, if I were of a mind to. To be honest, I don't consider it playing the system, but I do take advantage of senior discounts when they are offered and I certainly paid my one time fee for my lifetime national park pass. I see these as small "rewards" for having contributed to society for most of a lifetime. I don't consider them entitlements.
I haven't looked, therefore I've not taken advantage of any "entitlement" programs I may be eligible for. Some people may say I'm foolish. If I'm eligible, I should go for it. Frankly, I don't need it right now. I hope I never will. But, if I do, I'll do it grudgingly. I'd rather see others who truly need help, more than I do, have the advantage of getting it.
What does and will continue to irk me to no end, is government employees getting ridiculously large bonuses for just doing their jobs. There are some who say that governments are the largest and most costly forms of welfare and public dole there are. If these people want bonuses they should join the private sector where they have to earn their bonuses. Those hundreds of millions of dollars of bonus money could go a long way to bolstering the money taken from the Social Security and Medicare accounts. They could also go toward helping more people (not for a lifetime, however) who are in greater need of a little helping hand getting back on their feet than the government employees in their nice secure jobs with comfortable pensions awaiting them at retirement.
Remember! It's important! Do NOT listen and buy into all the politicians, their lackeys, the talking head media types and others who continue to call our BENEFITS entitlements. Yes! We are entitled to them, but that's because we EARNED them. The only place there should be guilt is in Congress, the White House and the media who keep buying into the semantics game and acting like the government's mouthpiece.