The word entitlement was first coined in 1944 according to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. It is defined as a right, especially by law – a right given by government – not a natural right.
American history reveals revulsion for unearned titles. British peerage provided the right of certain people to belong to the House of Lords based on primogenitor. The head of the Anglican Church, Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, flouted his privilege by riding around London in his finery and a gilded carriage drawn by fancy white horses. The craft guilds were a system of craftsmen entitled by the crown who specified the number of guilds and the number of journeymen and apprentices in each guild.
The Puritans tried to “purify” the Anglican Church in the later 1500s and 1600s. They believed that religion and the economy should not be under the control of the government. In addition to churches separate from the official Anglican Church, they formed businesses to manufacture textiles, ironworks and many others – becoming much larger than permitted by the guilds. Their efficiency and quality could not be matched by the guilds. Even royalty was compelled to deal with the Puritans in order to get the best quality and prices. The Puritan start-ups made money. The controversy came to a head with the English Civil War in 1640.
But a decade earlier the Great Migration of Puritans to New England had begun. John Winthrop, the leader, encouraged the new plantation to be a beacon on a hill for the whole world. Their ultimate task was to show that liberty led to felicity and wealth. He said that if they failed, they would become a laughing stock to the world. John Cotton, the most famous Puritan preacher, came to America. When criticized for leaving England at a time of strife in England, he wrote back that New England would someday save England, meaning that the experiment would show the way to happiness through the practice of their form of Christianity and economic liberty. Eventually, 30 to 40 thousand Puritans removed to the plantations of New England. The General Court ran the Massachusetts Bay Colony not unlike a corporate board of directors elected by the several towns. The General Court established counties and licensed towns. Each town was given a charter allowing them to rule themselves with Selectmen chosen by each town.
In 1640, my ancestor, Joseph Clarke, removed with siblings and his widowed mother to Dedham, a town west of Boston. The original petitioners had requested that the town be named Contentment to reflect their satisfaction with their state but the General Court refused. The founders of Dedham prepared a compact not unlike one in Dedham, England – each man in the town was required to sign the compact. Failure to abide by the town’s compact meant expulsion. Several reeves were appointed by each town to oversee such things as property markers, fences, education etc. Francis Parker reported that law enforcement was carried out by only a few magistrates – there were no police.
Later, Joseph took his family to follow his brother-in-law, Ralph Wheelock, to Medfield. In 1678 King Philip’s War erupted and Medfield was destroyed. One of Joseph’s sons was forgiven his pledge of two bushels of corn to fledgling Harvard University because of his losses in the war including a son.
One of Joseph’s sons, with four other men, financed the building of a saw mill in the new town of Medway. This venture was an early experiment in capitalism. The forest in Medway had to be cleared for farming and there was a need for lumber. The mill stood unburned and the government did not dictate its operation. The virtues of the people made such a venture both possible and successful.
Puritan sermons encouraged a work ethic and stressed the importance of every person’s labors to the success of the whole. People were entreated to earn as much as they could. However, illegal or immoral gain was another thing.
Fast forward three centuries and we find the U.S. the most powerful and wealthiest nation on earth. WWII fulfilled John Cotton’s prophesy when America saved civilization – all accomplished before the word “entitlements” was coined.
The military power of the Allies stopped the Axis Powers from crossing the Atlantic but it could not stop socialism. Socialism found fertile ground in the United States in the twentieth century. The immense wealth created by industrialization and covetousness displaced the humble work ethic along with other virtues of the earlier generations.
Socialism is built on an argument of fairness. This implies that the less productive are entitled to the fruits of the labors of those more productive. It creates jealousies and a tendency to covet. In order to establish fairness, a government must tax the productive and redistribute it as it sees fit. This form of government removes the Puritan belief in the supremacy of the individual subservient only to God with a powerful government that displaces God in the lives of many. It places property at the whim of government.
A supreme government is not a new idea. The Spartans forbid individuals to own gold or silver because they believed that it would cause citizens to think of the interests of the state as subordinate to their own. The ancient Greeks often forbid technological advances that improved efficiency because they would idle slaves which constituted a large portion of the population. Scientific discoveries were simply curiosities. Similar pressures were present in the guilds of the 1500s and in modern-day unions. Socialism retards technology by stifling the market of ideas so these societies stagnate, falling behind free market societies that take advantage of and reward innovation. Creating wealth, rather than redistributing a fixed wealth, raises all ships. Socialism increases the draft of some ships and reduces the draft of others. The zero sum game of socialism limits aspirations.
Covetousness tends to occur when forces exist to stymy increased wealth. These forces were first seen in America in the early 1900s with the union movement and in the schools where John Dewey introduced a form of socialism.
The word, entitlement, when applied to stuff, implies that unproductive people are entitled to some of the stuff of others under a doctrine of “fairness”. Such a doctrine requires the government to define fairness – how much is a worker entitled to keep and how much is the government entitled to take and how much are others to receive?
A man working for my father made a mistake. When Dad brought it to his attention, the man said that everyone is entitled to mistakes. Dad told him we all make mistakes, but no one is entitled to them and promptly fired him – not for the mistake but for thinking he was entitled to them.
An immense portion of the U. S. budget goes for entitlements – a concept totally foreign to our forefathers. Isn’t it a shame to allow our sense of self-worth and motivation be squelched by our government while it selfishly grasps at the product of our labors to buy the votes of others? It is a perverse system that allows the politicians to take money from the producers and hand it out to others in exchange for power–it amounts to the purchase of power with others money.
The Constitution was originally written sans income tax and sans wanton printing of a fiat currency. Senators were not elected but selected by the state legislatures to represent their state in the U.S. Senate. The Founders did not trust the populous to elect the upper house of Congress.
The rule-of-law has little value without protection of private property – we cannot have liberty without strong property rights.
Entitlements are inconsistent with property rights – a people must be free to be prosperous.
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