Which is the self­ish so­ci­ety? Wel­fare state or cap­i­tal­ism?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

In the con­tem­po­rary world, where left-wing at­ti­tudes are re­garded as nor­ma­tive, it is a given that cap­i­tal­ism, with its free mar­ket and profit mo­tive, em­anates from and cre­ates self­ish­ness, while so­cial­ism, the wel­fare state and the “so­cial com­pact,” as it is in­creas­ingly re­ferred to, em­anate from and pro­duce self­less­ness. The op­po­site is the truth. What­ever its in­ten­tions, the en­ti­tle­ment state pro­duces far more self­ish peo­ple, and there­fore, a far more self­ish so­ci­ety, than a free-mar­ket econ­omy. And once this wide­spread self­ish­ness catches on, we have lit­tle ev­i­dence that it can be un­done.

Here’s an il­lus­tra­tion: Last year, Pres­i­dent Obama ad­dressed a large au­di­ence of col­lege stu­dents on the sub­ject of health care. At one point in his speech, he an­nounced that the stu­dents will now be able to re­main on their par­ents’ health in­surance plan un­til age 26. I do not ever re­call hear­ing a louder, more thun­der­ous and sus­tained ap­plause than I did then. I do not be­lieve that if the pres­i­dent had an­nounced that a cure for cancer had been dis­cov­ered that the ap­plause would have been louder or longer.

It is de­press­ing to lis­ten to that ap­plause. To be told that one can be de­pen­dent on one’s par­ents un­til age 26 should strike a young per­son who wants to grow up as de­mean­ing, not as some­thing to cel­e­brate.

Through­out Amer­i­can his­tory, the nat­u­ral, or at least hoped for, in­cli­na­tion of a young per­son was to be­come a ma­ture adult, in­de­pen­dent of Mom and Dad, and to be­come a grown up. But in the wel­fare state, this is no longer the case.

In var­i­ous Euro­pean coun­tries, it is in­creas­ingly com­mon for young men to live with their par­ents into their 30s and even longer. Why not? In the wel­fare state, there is no shame in do­ing so.

The wel­fare state en­ables, and thereby pro­duces, peo­ple whose pre­oc­cu­pa­tions be­come more and more self-cen­tered as time goes on:

How many ben­e­fits will I re­ceive from the state?

How much will the state pay for my ed­u­ca­tion?

How much will the state pay for my health care and when I re­tire?

What is the youngest age at which I can re­tire?

How much va­ca­tion time can I get each year?

How many days can I call in sick and get paid?

How many months can I claim pa­ter­nity or ma­ter­nity care money?

The list gets longer with each elec­tion of a left-wing party. And each en­ti­tle­ment be­comes a “right” as the left trans­forms en­ti­tle­ments into the lan­guage

Last year, Pres­i­dent Obama ad­dressed a large au­di­ence of col­lege stu­dents on the sub­ject of health care. At one point in his speech, he an­nounced that the stu­dents will now be able to re­main on their par­ents’ health in­surance plan un­til age 26. I do not ever re­call hear­ing a louder, more thun­der­ous and sus­tained ap­plause than I did then. If the pres­i­dent had an­nounced that a cure for cancer had been dis­cov­ered I doubt that the ap­plause would have been louder or longer. It is de­press­ing to lis­ten to that ap­plause. To be told that one can be de­pen­dent on one’s par­ents un­til age 26 should strike a young per­son who wants to grow up as de­mean­ing, not as some­thing to cel­e­brate.

of “rights” as quickly as pos­si­ble.

What en­ti­tle­ments do, and what the trans­for­ma­tion of en­ti­tle­ments into rights does, is cre­ate a cit­i­zenry that in­creas­ingly lacks the most im­por­tant char­ac­ter trait, grat­i­tude.

Of all the char­ac­ter­is­tics needed for both a happy and morally de­cent life, none sur­passes grat­i­tude. Grate­ful peo­ple are happier, and grate­ful peo­ple are more morally de­cent. That is why we teach our chil­dren to say “thank you.” But the wel­fare state un­does that. One does not ex­press thanks for a right. So, in­stead of “thank you,” the cit­i­zen of the wel­fare state is taught to say, “What more can I get?”

Yet, while pro­duc­ing in­creas­ingly self­ish peo­ple, the mantra of the left, and there­fore of the uni­ver­si­ties and the me­dia, has been for gen­er­a­tions that cap­i­tal­ism and the free mar­ket, not the wel­fare state, pro­duces self­ish peo­ple.

They suc­ceed in part be­cause de­mo­niz­ing con­ser­va­tives and their val­ues is a left­wing art.

But the truth is that cap­i­tal­ism and the free mar­ket pro­duce less self­ish peo­ple. Teach­ing peo­ple to work hard and take care of them­selves (and oth­ers) pro­duces a less, not a more, self­ish cit­i­zen.

Cap­i­tal­ism teaches peo­ple to work harder; the wel­fare state teaches peo­ple to want harder. Which is bet­ter?

Den­nis Prager hosts a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated ra­dio talk show and is a vis­it­ing fel­low at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion at Stan­ford Univer­sity. He is the au­thor of four books, most re­cently “Hap­pi­ness Is a Se­ri­ous Prob­lem” (HarperCollins).

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