TOS Blog: Daily Commentary from an Objectivist Perspective

Romney Addresses Entitlement Mentality, Misses Fundamental

What does the entitlement mentality mean for America?

Mother Jones published a “secret” video of Mitt Romney speaking at a private fundraising event in which the Republican candidate discussed the entitlement mentality:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. . . . I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

Romney is correct that nearly half of all Americans receive government wealth transfers of some sort—money forcibly seized from them and/or their fellow citizens. Earlier this year, the Mercatus Center published data from 2010 showing that fully 49 percent of the population received government handouts. As examples: 26 percent of the population received Medicaid; 16 percent received Social Security; and 15 percent received food stamps.

But Romney is wrong in assuming that, just because someone takes government handouts, that person necessarily shares the entitlement mentality or advocates forced wealth transfers.

For many Americans living under today’s rights-violating government, it is practically impossible not to receive some sort of government handout. For example, Medicare has almost completely destroyed the private health insurance market for the elderly; if an elderly person wants health insurance, he must accept Medicare.

Moreover, as Ayn Rand argued in her 1966 essay “The Question of Scholarships,” those who are forced to pay into government programs have a moral right to recoup whatever benefit they can from those programs—but, Rand aptly added, “only so long as [one] regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism.”

Many of those caught in the trap of government dependency do not wish to be there and would not be there except that the government has forcibly looted their wealth and blocked their opportunities.

In this case, Romney is buying into two Marxist errors embraced by the left: that one’s material conditions determine one’s ideas, and that what most matters in a society is “class” division and strife.

What Romney should strive to understand—and articulate to the American people—is that individuals can and properly do guide their lives by reason; that the cause of their political views and election decisions is the moral and philosophical ideas they accept; and that if people are to lose the entitlement mentality, they must reject the idea that a person’s need is a claim on the goods and services produced by others.

Like this post? Join our mailing list to receive our weekly digest. And for in-depth commentary from an Objectivist perspective, subscribe to our quarterly journal, The Objective Standard.


Creative Commons Image: Gage Skidmore

Posted in: Individual Rights and Law, Politicians and Candidates

Comments are welcome so long as they are civil.
  • Valerie

    Articles like THIS are why I will NEVER support any libertarian in government. You *want* 4 more years of Obama? Then keep up with such whiny, counterproductive articles. Leave politics to those who place America’s best interests above ego and ideological purity…unlike YOU.

  • Jacob Zeise

    Valerie, I didn’t sense that you’re really objecting to the points made in the article. Rather, it sounds to me that you’re objecting to any criticism of Romney, period.

    You don’t have to worry. This criticism is coming from a journal that actually supports Romney. Mr. Armstrong is providing an antidote to Obama’s prescription of class warfare. It’s constructive criticism.

  • Keith Sketchley

    Overlooked in what you quote is that people paid into programs like Medicare and Social Security. Those programs may be underfunded, but even if so a substantial part of the benefit (which AFAIK cannot be divided to take only part) was earned by the recipient. Romney made a serious blunder with that remark, his statistic is too high. It is a good theme, but substantally diminished by his errors. He also caught himself in the hidden camera trap, like many people have. Does he have competent advisors?

  • Debra Contreras

    “Romney is wrong in assuming that, just because someone takes government handouts, that person necessarily shares the entitlement mentality or advocates forced wealth transfers.” I know this to be an accurate statement. I wish there were numbers that supported it, such as how many receiving gov’t assistance are actively employed, seeking employment, seeking to be adequately employed? I have known many single parents who received gov’t handouts who were both working and attending school full time in order to become financially self sufficient. Many also were active volunteers in their community: not only hard working for themselves, but wanting to give back. It is very difficult to transition off of gov’t aid when you are under-employed (defined as not earning enough to be financially self sufficient).

  • Paul Scott Williams

    I’m afraid that I must disagree with Ms. Rand when she says that it’s OK to receive government handouts. Such an action is dishonorable whatever the circumstances. Although nearly five months unemployed, I have never taken any money stolen from others, including “unemployment insurance,” which, being a cost to businesses mandated by the state, is immoral. Neither will I accept social insecurity when I reach the age where I become eligible. I’ll die before I become a burden to others or an acceptor of stolen money.

  • Richard Foley

    @paul Scott Williams- this is great that you feel so strongly against entitlements however my question to you is: if you are robbed of all your money by an individual who then agrees to give you a part of it back would you also defiantly refuse to accept it unless all of it is returned at once?

  • Richard Foley

    @Jacob – I think that Valerie is a strong believer that a vote for any third party is a wasted vote because the third party would never realistically be electable. This is a pragmatic way of thinking which necessarily dispenses with principles in favor of compromise. I’ve also noticed that many of her posts are a bit emotionally charged. It is often easier and more satisfying to present an emotional argument rather than waste time with an intellectual one.