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Why are Americans the most generous people according to World Giving Index regarding volunteering, helping strangers, and donating yet resists expanding social safety programs (affordable healthcare, childcare, college tuition, parental leave)?
Because many Americans, especially the ones who want to reduce spending on social programs, define a difference between positive rights and negative rights. Any positive rights such as "the right to an education" or "the right to retirement benefits" or "the right to fast internet" require someone to pay for them directly, while negative rights such as "the right to free speech" only require others to not interfere with your actions and only the infrastructure of a legal system. Entitlements are a subset of these positive rights, and come about when someone legally must be given a particular benefit by fulfilling particular criteria (age for Social Security for instance), usually in direct payments. In this case people are usually paid for their benefits either through say medical services or a monthly check (Social Security). You can see this in the phrasing of the Bill of Rights, which says "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech" for instance. As for why it's a uniquely American thing - the US is probably one of the most right-wing countries in the world, and government spending is far more questioned than in say Europe. In general, entitlements along with positive rights make up a large portion of federal budget spending - clearly money is spent on enforcing negative rights as well, the nature of the laws is far different. Entitlements, unlike other spending such as infrastructure or defense, is directly How much is dedicated to free speech and protection of parades/demonstrations versus the budget for education, Medicare, Social Security? Almost nothing - the basis for both is a government, which does cost money. It's not completely black-and-white, more of a spectrum - criminal justice requires a court system in the infrastructure for government, but there is a difference in the nature of these two forms of rights. What should be clear is that there are tons of positive rights in the world today, and within them, entitlements - and just calling something an "entitlement" is not necessarily bad. Maybe if you're a minarchist or hardcore libertarian who wants all social programs dismantled, but otherwise people are making it clear that such entitlements cost money, and it's our job to judge whether such entitlements are worth the expense, or if t are not necessary. People range from believing Social Security should be immediately privatized and government phase out the system to those who believe a living wage is a right and everyone should make at least $20/hr or be provided a government stipend if unable to find a job. Entitlements range across the board from homeowner tax deductions (that help the middle class at the expense of the mainly renting poor) to business deductions that mainly help the upper class, to old (Social Security & Medicare) to the young (required granting of scholarships). Postscript. I've always felt that to truly understand something, such as why Americans call social programs entitlements, one should understand their frame of mind. A bunch of people may truly be hypocrites or self-interested beings who want their things protected and other people's things slashed out of the budget, but I'm sure a significant portion of Americans who call social programs "entitlements," especially the political class, have a different frame of thinking. Projecting a different point of view may feel better - but true understanding lies across the political Rubicon.
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