Charles commented to yesterday’s post that Obamacare and Medicare were different, in that Medicare is for the elderly who, because they are bad risks, cannot get health insurance. This is, of course, true, though there are plenty of people who are not elderly, but who are nevertheless high risk and cannot get health insurance. I found the distinction unsatisfying, however, because I was struck by the alchemy that turned the undeniable need of seniors for affordable health care into an entitlement to a government (meaning you and me) funded program to pay for it.
In trying to think of analogies I considered things like unemployment benefits, ballots in foreign languages and the like, but the folks who benefit from these programs usually are in a position to reduce or eliminate the need for such programs. The unemployed can get out there and get jobs, immigrants can learn English and the like. The elderly can’t help getting old.
But what about the disabled? The vast majority have very real needs and, like the elderly, can do nothing to eliminate those needs. Efforts made to accommodate the disabled (a much smaller group than seniors) have been hugely expensive. These efforts come in two flavors. First are government mandates that require private individuals and companies to spend huge sums for things like handicapped bathrooms and special counters. Second are government financed programs, such as rebuilding sidewalk curbs to provide ramps at all intersections.
I have a bit of a personal interest in this, because my wife was blinded, and both her parents killed, in a car accident when she was 15 years old. She has benefitted greatly from programs for the blind and orphaned. Social security allowed her to finish college at William and Mary. She was trained at no expense at the Arkansas Enterprises for the Blind to work for the IRS, answering the public’s tax questions, which she has done for 30 years. Even now, she receives a constant stream of braille books, books on tape and books on disc at taxpayer expense. In a sense, she is a wonderful success story, have paid back the taxpayer’s investment in her many times over by being a productive member of society rather than a drag on it all these years (not to mention raising two fine sons and putting up with me!) But did her need give her an entitlement to all these government funded programs? I don’t think so.
So, that’s my question for the day. To what extent does anyone’s need, and especially the need of the disabled, entitle them to government support? If not entitlements, should any such programs be supported anyway, either because they are the right thing to do, or, as with my wife, because society derives benefits from them (in another area, student loans come to mind as possibly fitting this category)? What about government programs that force private individuals to spend money on accommodations, access ramps for the handicapped, for example? What programs would you nominate, if any, as worth spending taxpayer dollars on?