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The deep waters of entitlement

If you live in Detroit, you’ve got (at least) 99 problems, and water might be one of them.  Nolan Finley at Detroit News explains that people haven’t been paying their water bills, but liberals see no reason that should prevent them from getting water:

The legion of lefties in town for the Netroots Nation gathering have scheduled a march to protest the water shut-offs underway in Detroit as inhumane and a violation of civil rights.

Fully half of the water customers in Detroit don’t pay their bills. Advocates of free water for all blame the city’s 38 percent poverty rate for the high level of delinquency.

But nearly all of those with incomes below the poverty line receive public assistance. That’s money provided by their fellow citizens to help them pay for their basic needs — food, water, clothing, shelter.

And yet barely 50 percent of Detroiters pay their water bill. Meanwhile, up to two-thirds of city residents pay to keep their cable or satellite television service current. And 72 percent do the same to maintain their cellphones.

It’s not a stretch to guess the reason delinquency rates are lower for cable and cellphone service is that the cable and telephone companies cut off customers who don’t pay their bills. The Detroit water department hasn’t done that much, until now.

So instead of using what resources they have to cover their needs, many water customers instead have chosen to service their wants. That’s what happens when people are conditioned to think someone else is responsible for taking care of them.

That “someone else” would be the people who do pay their water bills.  They’ve been hit by an 11 percent price increase recently, driven largely by the need to make up for the shortfall from delinquents.  But even though water shut-offs have prompted quite a few of those delinquents to make reasonable arrangements to settle their bills, the Nutroots left decided to make a civil-rights issue out of free water for everyone who doesn’t feel like paying up.

That’s not surprising.  The concept of entitlement is central to both left-wing politics and criminal activity.

That’s a provocative way to put it, I know.  It’s not a nice thing to say.  But I’ll back it up, beginning with the observation that Detroit’s water deadbeats are robbing the people who pay their bills.  As Finley pointed out, there are all sorts of public assistance programs provided for the truly indigent – no one is being callously left to die of thirst.  A sizable number of people are letting the water bill slide, but paying for cable TV and cell phone service, because they believe the water won’t be cut off.  In other words, they’re using the power of the State to loot their neighbors.  One of the great intellectual toxins of modern society is the belief that theft becomes morally legitimate if the government helps.

I suspect very few of the people engaged in this activity, and none of the lefties protesting on their behalf, view themselves as criminals or thieves.  At worst, they might concede there’s something basically wrong about getting water for free while other people pay their bills, but they would proceed to justify their behavior by saying they are entitled to the free water.  It’s a civil right, a human right, etc.  It should be “free,” no matter how much it costs.  Which means, of course, that other people must be forced to pay for it.

The same logic is applied to anything else the Left decides is a compulsory entitlement, with birth control serving as a recent notable example.  The list of things everyone should be “entitled” to grows steadily, and is by no means limited to the absolute necessities of life.  Once a politically persuasive slice of society has been persuaded that something is a universal entitlement, there’s plenty of room for coercive statist ideologues and greedy politicians to step in and portray themselves as heroes for providing it.  Oddly enough, these “heroes” have no interest in working for free.  The cost of “free stuff” is sky-high, in no small part, because the distributors of free stuff are careful to cut themselves a big piece of the action.

The entitlement mentality is also crucial to most criminal behavior, aside from the most outrageous deeds of the most bloody-minded sociopaths.  Criminals have a tendency to believe they were entitled to take whatever they stole, or do whatever they did.  A high percentage of them, even after confessing to their actions, refuse to see themselves as villainous.  Their justifications often run along the lines that their victims, or society at large, has abused and disrespected them.  The whole world is a rigged game, so they decided not to play by the rules.  

Again, I know it’s impolite to put it this bluntly, but if you notice a certain easy transition from such talk to the political rhetoric of the mainstream Left, that’s no coincidence.  The first step of any revolutionary is to decide that society itself is unjust, and therefore morally unable to defend itself.  When you decide you are entitled to something, anyone who gets in the way of obtaining it becomes the “criminal,” in a cosmic or social-justice sense.  That’s a staple of left-wing rhetoric.  The entire system of earning, keeping, and owning is their enemy.  They believe it is unjust, and see no reason to respect the property rights of people they regard as well-heeled bandits.  It doesn’t matter if these “bandits” stand accused of no specific legal violation.  They deserve no due process of law to defend an innocence they are presumed to lack.

One permutation of this mindset is the presumption that everything is the rightful property of the collective People, with the State serving as executor of the popular will.  You didn’t build that; someone else made that happen.  Every dollar of wealth generated across the nation was produced with some help by the government, some use of public resources, from public roads to cops patrolling the streets.  Sure, you already paid taxes for all that stuff, but that doesn’t discharge the State’s ownership of your wealth.

The leftist model of society is not fee-for-service, with everyone paying a straightforward fee to support the essential functions of government.  Instead, the collective People are “entitled” to everything.  The wise stewards of government will decide how these communal resources should be parceled out, generously permitting some vestige of the free-market capitalist system to process some extra rewards for risk and industry.  Really, if you’re well-off, what do you have to complain about?  You’ve already got more than you’re “entitled” to.  From each according to his means, to each according to his needs.

From this perspective, “free” water for “impoverished” people who spend their money on cable television packages and smartphones makes sense.  It’s not “fair” to ask those people to compromise their lifestyles to whatever degree is necessary to cover the utility bills.  People who have money to cover TV, phones, water, and much more have no real right to protest their higher water bills.  An 11 percent increase in the water bill isn’t going to ruin their lifestyles, right?  Neither will an 11 percent increase in their income taxes, or their centrally-planned health insurance, or the corporate taxes consumers pay without ever even seeing them…

If you have no inherent entitlement to every penny of your own property – if ownership of your money, which is the product of your human capital, is not absolute – then everything can be judged according to relative and highly flexible standards of “social justice,” which the political class is constantly re-defining.  That’s how people can conclude it’s “fair” for half the population of Detroit to rob the other half at the water faucet, without any of the takers feeling a twinge of guilt, or the providers feeling any righteous anger.  The same people become very angry at those who conclude such an arrangement is for the birds, and attempt to flee before they learn, the hard way, what other “entitlements” they will be expected to finance.

Entitlement is the antithesis of ownership, which is why both politicians and criminals savor it.  Individual ownership defines the limits of power, which is why both politicians and criminals despise it, at least for individuals other than themselves.

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