A final key moral question is whether people should be treated primarily as independent individuals or as interchangeable parts of a larger collective.
Here again, history provides ample evidence. Wherever and whenever they’ve been free to do so, people have exhibited differing values, plans, and priorities. Societies succeed by respecting and catering to these individual choices and preferences; they fail when individuals aren’t even recognized. Take, for example, the contrast between the Free World’s outpouring of diverse and imaginative consumer products with the Soviets’ monotonously drab and barren output during the Cold War. Or the Maoists’ brutal mainland uniformity versus the flourishing trade and production of free Hong Kong. Or, for history buffs, the contrast between ancient Athenian and Spartan cultures.
But the evidence isn’t only historical, it’s also intimately personal. We each have unique dreams and aspirations that require differing paths and choices. No one else, much less the government, can know what’s best for us (despite what might be “good” for a fictional “average person”). College may be generally worthwhile, but the next Bill Gates might be completely justified in dropping out to start a business. Following a safe and steady career path may be good for most, but for the aspiring actor or musician, success may mean taking a very unorthodox route to that one big break.
Yet those pushing entitlement programs see it otherwise. They have a collectivized, one-size-fits-all approach to man. To whatever extent possible, the government should create and impose uniformity: all children should go to public schools until they’re 16. Patients should only be allowed to take drugs approved by some government board. Everyone should contribute 15% of their income to their future retirement and medical needs each and every year. Everyone should retire at 65.
Part and parcel of this collectivized view is the refusal to see individuals at all. Thus there’s no recognition that particular people, engaged in particular processes and efforts, earn and produce wealth. By dropping the individual from their worldview, collectivists don’t have to confront the moral question of why they find it proper to take from some to give to others.
The result of these collectivist and paternalistic views is a continuous assault on individuals and their rights. This is borne out in the implementation of our entitlement programs.
For example, consider all those who haven’t yet acquired sufficient skills and experience for a potential employer to justify both their salary and the additional burden of a 15.3% FICA tax. Entitlement programs price these people out of the labor market, and thereby contribute to our stubbornly high rates of unemployment — particularly among the young.
The same type of analysis applies to those employees trying to save enough to start a family or a business of their own. For many starting out, the 15.3% withholding tax represents a huge percentage of their discretionary income. Forcing them to prioritize retirement over other genuine values is inimical to their personal success and happiness. Contrary to the one-size-fits-all mentality, people’s circumstances vary widely, and there are often times in a person’s life when withholding for retirement is not a good thing.
Next, consider every responsible person who could have — and would have — saved and invested the equivalent of his mandatory FICA withholdings had he simply been allowed to. Over the years many wanted to opt out of the entitlement programs to build their own nest eggs, but they were prohibited from doing so in the name of protecting them from themselves. Now, thanks to our paternalistic caretakers, all that money is gone.
But it doesn’t end there, for not only is inclusion in these Ponzi schemes mandatory to employees, but when FICA contributions are inadequate — as they already are for Medicare — every taxpayer is forced to contribute to the deficiency via the general revenues.
As bad as all this is, perhaps the most egregious violation of rights comes in the treatment of future generations. Thanks to a complicit majority, those of voting age have for years now sought to burden (some might say indenture) the next generation with their retirement and medical bills. It’s a classic case of trying to have one’s cake and eat it too. Voters approve and enjoy all the current year spending to which their withholding taxes go, but still expect someone else — indeed a whole generation — to provide them with the very goods they refuse to set aside.