Famous mountaineer, George Mallory, chose to climb Mt. Everest in the 1920’s and died in the attempt. He was free to make that choice and suffered the results. His widowed wife and family suffered from his loss. If others had prevented him from trying such an adventure, they would have been curtailing his freedom. True freedom brings with it the possibility of failure. True freedom includes the Freedom to Fail. The great heroic deeds of history—daring risks against great odds—are testimonials to those willing to risk failure to win great goals. The true triumph is because they did not fail when they could have.
There is a great cost to such freedom. We do not regret so deeply when individuals suffer from their own bad choices because we recognize it is proof of their freedom—a most prized characteristic of a free people. But we regret profoundly when the bad—even evil—choices of some cause suffering and tragedy to others. An extreme example is when crimes are committed against innocent victims. But more common is when parents make choices that not only ruin their lives, but create almost insurmountable barriers to the success of their children. The parents’ freedom to choose has resulted not only in failure for themselves, but also in failure for those dependent upon them.
Entitlements are intended to eliminate failure.[i] No matter what choices anyone makes, everyone in America is entitled to free emergency room care—regardless of whether or not they can pay for it themselves, have health insurance, are legally present in the country, or even if they deliberately caused the physical harm requiring treatment—they are all entitled to good medical care. This entitlement eliminates the cost of their Freedom to Fail. Actually it doesn’t eliminate the cost, it just transfers it to others. Someone has to pay for the expensive emergency room care. Those who pay taxes and have health insurance become victims to those who are entitled. The same is true of every other entitlement. If everyone is entitled to a college education, then subsidies for college must be provided for all, regardless of the choices prospective students have made. If everyone is entitled to housing, then housing must be provided regardless of how unable those receiving it are to maintain such housing. Every entitlement is a transfer of cost from those who have failed—admittedly not always due to some particular fault; it could be unavoidable misfortune—to others.
Many entitlements are intended to insulate innocent children from the bad choices their parents have made. Because such children have not been prepared to succeed in our very competitive world and, therefore, are unable on their own to obtain the essentials for a decent life, we as a society choose to give them entitlements to compensate. It is a good investment if those children eventually become self-supporting and end their need for entitlements. It is a failure if, generation after generation, entitlements must be continued.
Not only do free people have the Freedom to Fail, nations also have that freedom. History is littered with nations and civilizations that have failed disastrously. The result of a nation failing is much more catastrophic because if affects everyone. There is no over-seeing super government granting us an entitlement to insure our nation survives and prospers. A nation can attempt to entitle itself to unearned help by borrowing from others, but then it is really no longer free and independent. It will exist only so long as its creditors tolerate its extravagance. If a nation is not adequately prepared to repel invaders, or if it has an economic system that simply doesn’t work, or if it is unable to maintain civil accord and unity, it fails. Where are the Etruscans and Aztecs today? The freedom for each nation to choose its political and economic system carries with it the Freedom to Fail. Who is going to provide entitlements to our government? Who will insulate our nation from its Freedom to Fail? Who is going to entitle us with the money to turn around our current rush toward national bankruptcy?
Our attempt to offset the personal Freedom to Fail with entitlements has had the effect of creating a population demanding entitlements to shield them from the results of their bad choices. That unconsciously leads to the dangerously incorrect assumption that somehow our government is equally entitled to be protected from its wrong choices, from its Freedom to Fail. Many are living under the foolish fallacy that our nation can transfer the cost of its failure to others. But Freedom to Fail is inescapable at the national level. There are no entitlements at the national level for America. Wake up! We as a nation must face the reality of our own Freedom to Fail.
[i] By this definition, Social Security and Medicare are not entitlements. Social Security, though flawed, attempts to return as an old age pension an equivalent of what individuals and their employers have paid into the program. Medicare, again paid for throughout a person’s working life, is intended to be prepaid health insurance for old age. Some will receive more back than they paid in. (See http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/planning-to-retire/2011/01/06/will-you-get-back-your-social-security-taxes-in-retirement). This is very different from true entitlements which simply transfer money from those who have paid to those who haven’t.