A picture search for "entitlements" yielded only pictures of  President Obama and Senator Reid smiling. "Social Security" turned up this much more exciting die-in in San Francisco over proposed entitlement cuts. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)
A picture search for “entitlements” yielded only pictures of  President Obama and Senator Reid smiling. “Social Security” turned up this much more exciting die-in in San Francisco over proposed entitlement cuts. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

Now that Obamacare, the debt ceiling and the reopening of government are all settled, we might as well trip right along to the next thing to get all riled up about. Guess what it is: It’s entitlements! But we have already erred, Robert Samuelson writes, by calling them “entitlements.” Thing is, about half of the country is a beneficiary of some kind of entitlement. So it is easy to think of the other people getting entitlements and forget how we benefit from them as well. If politicians actually said what they were planning on cutting, we’d be more informed. It might seem like an issue of semantics, but semantics in this case are actually quite meaningful. See “discretionary spending.”

On the semantical front, at least, commenters broadly agreed. What you think of when you say “entitlements” changes everything. Many things we don’t think of as “entitlements” are nevertheless designed to benefit some citizens over others. For example, are tax credits entitlements?

crane5

The cost of paying for SNAP benefits is barely 1/3 the cost of the mortgage interest deductions that largely go to the upper and middle classes.

Or the arrangement of having some employer benefits be tax-free?

Sombat

crane5 – not to mention all the health insurance that middle class people get that is not taxed. Poor people, if they get it at all, must purchase insurance from after tax dollars.

hombreterricula

Why is my IRA not an entitlement but Social Security, for which I also pay, considered one? SS is not the same as welfare.

Or having some government services not considered discretionary, optional or entitlements at all?

cqs

What about national security entitlements? We just spent 15 trillion in Iraq and Afghanistan, with no plan for how to pay for it. The NSA has an unlimited budget to spy on the world, or spy on Americans at home.

Bhawk1 sees government spending on needy groups as benefiting everyone, since spending money keeps capitalism going:

The word entitlements has morphed into a different meaning. It once meant “a right to something”. Social Security is purchased, medicare is purchased, most of the list put forth were in reality subsidies directly or indirectly to business. Sure the person using WIC, School Lunch,or SNAP get food but that food purchase money goes to the store, the distributor, the food processer, and of course the producer. Here in Texas 13th district the Feds pay over 60 million to beef processors. It’s a cattle subsidy.

And boblesch argues that higher salaries for workers and abundant jobs would lessen the need for programs for the needy–and bring in more money from payroll taxes, fixing several troubles at once:

With 100,000,000 people dependent on programs that amount to subsidies for those who don’t earn enough money to live on – isn’t the most comprehensive, long term solution a new economy, designed with the priority of employing everyone at livable wages?

So that settles it! We find the term “entitlements” unhelpful. Step one of the budget fight done. PostScript thinks we’re all entitled to a little break.