What we call "entitlements" are merely laws.
That's obvious, right?

Speaking of "entitlements," just what is an entitlement? A right?

Not at all. The "right" to collect social security derives from a law passed by Congress in 1935 and signed by the president. Same is true of Medicare (which simply amended the Social Security Act). Like any law, these laws can be repealed or changed at the whim of Congress.

The United States Supreme court has specifically held that the Social Security Act does not create any contractual obligation on the part of the United States, and thus does not even rise to the level of any sort of right. It is not even analogous to an insurance contract:

"To engraft upon the Social Security system a concept of 'accrued property rights' would deprive it of the flexibility and boldness in adjustment to ever changing conditions which it demands." The Court went on to say, "It is apparent that the non-contractual interest of an employee covered by the [Social Security] Act cannot be soundly analogized to that of the holder of an annuity, whose right to benefits is bottomed on his contractual premium payments."
So why does everyone (except a few libertarian cranks) go on calling these things "entitlements"? To imply that they are rights when they are not?

There is no right to have a law. There is no more right to receive social security than there was a right to Prohibition of alcohol (or drug laws).

Laws can be changed, and I feel like I'm stating the obvious here.

So why does it seem so non-obvious to so many people?

posted by Eric on 07.16.09 at 08:35 PM


An "entitlement" is legal term of art which refers to a government handout available to *every single person* who meets the requirements. Thus any eligible person who turns up has to be paid, unless the law is changed. With other sorts of government handouts, they can stop handing out money once they run out of budgeted money.

Anthony   ·  July 17, 2009 12:34 AM

Whenever we must qualify the term right (as in "civil" right) we are in the midst of an obfuscation by which a legally mandated privilege is surreptitiously elevated to the level of actual rights, such as life, liberty and property.

Brett   ·  July 17, 2009 8:02 AM

Because killing millions of the most helpless members of our society through lack of healthcare or income past working age is not an "obvious" policy solution to any decent person.

Kevin T. Keith   ·  July 17, 2009 10:01 AM

Killing? Who said anything about that? All I said was what the government gives by laws, the government can stop or adjust with more laws.

In any case, not paying for someone's health care no more constitutes "killing" than would not paying for his food. (I realize that political activists would probably argue that not giving someone food stamps is murder, but that does not make it so. Not even if you proclaim that "POVERTY IS VIOLENCE!")

Since you brought up killing, the killing of certain people (in the form of euthanasia and infanticide performed to be on "the most helpless members of our society") is advocated by lefties like Peter Singer. (As to whether he's a decent person, that is logically irrelevant.)

Eric Scheie   ·  July 17, 2009 10:18 AM

So why does it seem so non-obvious to so many people?

Please see Kevin T. Keith's comment for an answer.

I don't know if it answers the fundamental "Why?" of "how can you think that way", but more of the superficial "why?" of how some people respond to questions that seem to attack their worldview. If that makes any sense to anybody but me.

Think of it as "stimulus/response".

You asked a definitional question and that response attacked you personally for wanting to kill Teh Children while ignoring that the people on the side of more entitlements are not just for abortion, but enthusiastically so.

Veeshir   ·  July 17, 2009 2:32 PM

Ooops, I didn't complete my "thought".
Kevin attacked you for asking a definitional question by assuming that, since you were questioning entitlements as a "right", you obviously must want to kill....uhhhh.... "Them" (You know who they are).

It's not so much debate as a way to shut down debate.

And it worked, you responded to its non-sequitur instead of discussing the point of the post.

Veeshir   ·  July 17, 2009 2:35 PM

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