Greed, give me everything that I need.
— Ice Cube
While the term “entitlement culture” has become for many in places like Albany — sadly — a euphemism for the poor in the mostly African-American community, perhaps the insensitive souls who use such code should rethink their rally cry of “No more entitlements!”
The sentiment is obvious: Cut out funds to poor families who find themselves entangled in a welfare culture, one that all but eliminates the longstanding American value of gainful employment. But do these people really want to do away with all entitlements? And just where would they propose the cutting begin?
Perhaps they’d like the government to start with farm sudsidies. Even though the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act was purportedly passed to wean America away from subsidized farming, the government has handed out $261.9 billion in ag subsidies from 1995 to last year.
As a matter of fact, farm subsidies are a $5 billion-a-year handout used as a price hedge for American farmers. And, incidentally, this entitlement is not going to those family farmers struggling to scratch out a living from the land. Less than 1 percent of that massive sum is going to such growers.
No, the overwhelming majority of this money is going to large corporate farms.
Or maybe the new-age reformers would like to take a whack at the Social Security Tax that is capped at $106,000. If you’re one of us in the unwashed masses, those of us who make $105,999.99 or less — some of us a lot less — a year, every penny you make is subject to the tax. If, however, you’re one of the lucky ones who makes the big bucks, you get a free ride — an entitlement, as it were — on anything above $106 grand.
If you’re one of the real lucky ones who makes the extremely big bucks — that cliched 1 percent — your government is allowing you to pay taxes on 1 percent of your income (nice symmetry) while the rest of us are taxed at a 100 percent rate.
Maybe while we’re doing away with entitlements, we could put an end to the estimated $100 billion in Medicare benefits that are going to the wealthy each year, or perhaps we could eliminate the Capital Gains Tax that allows rich folks to pay only 15 percent on the gains they make from their real estate deals. And how about all those government-sponsored college scholarships and grants that go to students whose parents can afford to buy a dorm or two?
Heck, while we’re taking a crack at all these entitlements, let’s see if we can’t cut out the practice of putting American-earned money tax-free into Swiss bank accounts, a practice that the IRS estimates costs the country’s coffers in excess of $100 million a year.
A hundred mill here and a hundred mill there, and it really starts to add up.
If we’re really serious about all this entitlement elimination talk, maybe we ought to look at the biggest plum of all, Social Security. The former “veterans, widows and orphans” fund has become something of a boondoggle in a class all its own over the years as everyone demands his or her piece of that now dwindling pie.
I understand the frustration of the no entitlement crowd. I really do. It cheeses me off beyond words printable in this newspaper to know that a portion of my hard work ... well, work ... is going to buy groceries and pay for other necessities for able-bodied individuals who have figured out a way to game the system. It burns me up to have to check my bank account balance before I buy a couple of oranges, some grapes and a bag of those little white doughnuts at the grocery store only to have to wait in line for 30 minutes while the person in front of me uses my tax money to pay for her buggiesful of Twinkies, cigarettes and Cheesy Poofs.
But as much as that galls me, it eats me up even more to think that there are millionaires and billionaires who are getting their share of that same ill-gotten pie.
So, if you’re serious about doing away with entitlements, let’s take it all the way. And let’s start at the top, with the people who don’t need them in the first place.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.