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In defense of “entitlements”

The word “entitlement” is widely held in disrepute. It conjures up images of a petulant child, wailing for candy in the grocery store aisle, or a slovenly freeloader demanding something for nothing.

Ronald Reagan, political acumen never in doubt, was the first major politician to cast the popular programs as “entitlements,” in an effort to malign them. (The term’s first appearance, according to conservative scholars Norman Ornstein and John Makin, was in the legalese of the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act.) Today’s conservatives are convinced the salient schism in American society is between “makers” and “takers.” Mitt Romney, in the candid moment that torpedoed his campaign, excoriated the 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income tax, yet “believe the government has a responsibility to care for them.” Paul Ryan, among others, frets that citizens are becoming coddled; that the social safety net has turned into a “hammock.”

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