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10 April 2011


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Brent Wiggans

The public goods that will be in the crosshairs next are entitlements. Entitlements are goods and services that society has decided (in our case by democratic processes) it will guarantee any citizen, and sometimes others, who need them. Before harking back to the Constitution and original intent and before citing our regional differences we should consider, with respect, that these entitlements are covenants that were made by past generations - and their American experience - to us and to generations yet to come as both a gift and an obligation in order to free us from groveling dependency on charitable impulses that may or may not exist in the breasts of the few who today possess an ever greater portion of the national wealth. Entitlements are the means by which everyone is allowed to exist with dignity, beholden to their country, yes, but a country that includes oneself.

There is much myth and illusion concerning what America is and what it stands for. Entitlements are a very concrete expression of some of the values to which Americans have committed their nation. This national conversation we are trying to have is about nothing less than the country’s reason for being.

William  R. Cumming

The Charter for the National Academy of Science was signed by President Lincoln in 1864 in an attempt to marshall scientific knowledge on behalf of the Northern Cause.

William  R. Cumming

Always remember entitlements are guarantees of due process, equal protection and even civil rights. They have never under SCOTUS rulings been guarantees of any particular level of funding. See the rulings of SCOTUS over the funding of WWI insurance policies of the vets. These were not "bonuses" IMO. Nor pensions!


Entitlements are actually about controlling the poor. If they are removed or reduced, expect security costs to increase disproportionately.

Brent Wiggans

Even without the protection of SCOTUS, entitlements such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are a declaration of our determination as a society to make looking after our own a civic obligation. Our means may be imperfect but the intention was clearly to free our people from the Dickensian nightmare of poverty and its accompanying subjugation to the arbitrary whims of private charity.


I am probably just going to get myself in trouble by asking a gun-control question, but this seems like the right forum. To me, someone who would like to see the risk from guns diminished by, eg. requiring licensing to use them (as with cars), what is most troubling about gun-rights advocates is their claim that any incursion on gun0owners rights will lead inexorably to guns being unavailable to the citizenry, and then to tyranny--which an armed citizenry would prevent. I think the "inexorable" part is fantasy, but my question is different: if we somehow had a tyrannical government, with a modern military, would armed citizens really be a barrier to it imposing its will?

I appreciate that exactly this argument was the basis for the 2nd amendment--but the model there was Cromwell's New Model Army, and military capabilities are somewhat stronger now.

Patrick Lang

"and military capabilities are somewhat stronger now."

What? Nuclear weapons and napalm? pl

JT Davis

I am always troubled by the term "Entitlements," especially when used to refer to Social Security INSURANCE. Because that is what it is. An insurance program we all pay into, and then collect from. Would you consider some other form of insurance an "entitlement" when you collect on it or just the government run ones. It is a matter of framing and disingenuous framing at that.

Sidney, I think Thayer is saying, mostly about acolytes of Ayn Rand, and I agree it is thought provoking, that a libertarian of the Ron Paul variety may own some land with a stream running through it. He chooses to use the stream as a sewer for dumping all kinds of waste. It is his land and he can do what "he likes with it". The people downstream are then deprived of pure fresh water from the stream as it passes through their land. This sort of thing is rather common and one doesn't have to be a libertarian to feel or act that way. When it comes to property in land, I believe it is a special kind of property unlike any other. The list of Founders and Framers who felt this way is long and notable. Adam Smith and John Locke felt the same way and I can provide you exact quotes from any of them, should you so desire.

Patrick Lang


"requiring licensing to use them (as with cars"

OK. Start a movement to repeal the 2nd Amendment. pl

Sidney O. Smith III

JT Davis
Libertarians would probably say that a further development of nuisance law is the answer to your woes.

I spent a few years deeply involved in toxic tort litigation dealing with multinational corporations and saw firsthand how common law precepts can develop rather rapidly once a case gets before a jury, particularly if punitive damages are involved. But, typically, you have to get the issue before a jury first.

I can give you some citations if you want.

In my opinion, we do need a national apparatus to respond to natural disasters, such as Katrina, the Gulf Oil Spill, and at some point, the fracturing of the San Andreas fault in Southern California. But, as the federal response to Katrina certainly demonstrated, our nationalists certainly failed in responding to Katrina because they were too busy trying to “reconstruct” the Muslim world as an example of enlightening the world through American exceptionalism.


You only have to license a car taken on public streets. If you just drive it on your own property, you don't need a license. Most states require a permit to carry in public but not a gun kept at home. Gun restrictions are for the most decided by the states.

Brent Wiggans

Social Security is an insurance program that was set up that way from the beginning, which will probably save it from much more than tinkering and nibbling. Medicare and Medicaid are more properly classified as entitlements. The means by which these entitlements were to be financed did not anticipate either the explosion of medical capabilities or their cost. They likely did not foresee the conversion of mutual insurance companies to for-profit corporations either. We are, at present, caught straddling two models of health care financing that are antagonistic instead of synergistic. Republicans are attempting to redefine these entitlements as defined contributions in the case of Medicare and fire-and-forget block grants to states in the case of Medicaid coupled to a complete reversion to the private insurance model. The Democrats do not seem to have the courage to opt the other way for a comprehensive single payer model that would have the leverage to control costs. The Republican redefinition has the advantage of being predictable and controllable in terms of outlays, but it decouples the benefit from the promise to provide health care. The disparity between the benefit and health care it actually buys will become apparent over time, but for now their rhetorical lock on the words “private” and “freedom” will serve. If the Democrats fail to get behind a model that people believe will control costs, they will probably lose the argument and they will have to rely on popular dissatisfaction with the Republican solution to get another shot some decades hence.

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