ON BEING ADDICTED TO YOUR OWN WELFARE

Merrill Ring

Why does the right talk as if Social Security and other safety net programs are addictions?  

The anti-government faction in this country thinks of people’s liking for Medicare and Social Security as an addiction, as a goodie craved by those with a social sweet tooth.  In the same way they express their fear that once the Affordable Care Act fully comes into play people will also become ‘addicted’ to it; hence it must be stopped, repealed, before people get a taste of it, before the craving captures them.

That those social programs are thought of by the right as irrationally appealing is not surprising.  For the libertarians in their opposition to government conceive of themselves as fully rational (their chief publication is named Reason) and so they are faced with the task of explaining why people are attracted to what seems to libertarians as people’s irrational longing for government to play a role in their lives, to help make their lives better.

We liberals must then be thought of as the political equivalent of drug dealers.  That we rationally defend Medicare and so on as working for the common good, that we argue for the existence and expansion of the social safety net as morally desirable for living more fully human lives, that we reject the libertarian arguments for their shrunken conception of life, cannot be mentioned in the public sphere by libertarians.  And that people come to see, whether on the basis of argument or on the basis of experience, that we are right, that their and their fellow citizen’s lives are improved by the safety-net programs, cannot be accepted by the right as a rational conclusion.

Hence they have resort to the language of addiction as the only way to make sense of the situation.  We, on the other hand, both those who advocate such programs and those whose lives are improved by them, must be treated as drug-dealers and druggies.