The people who shape and distribute language for popular usage have done an interesting thing to that word. Entitlement.
Sound it as a dog-whistle and people will tell you entitlements are undeserved benefits lavished on spongers, welfare kings, queens and their children, and paid for by “us.”
Who are they to feel “entitled” to a social safety net?
Generally speaking, since the Clinton-era American health and welfare policies have consistently discouraged people from using their so-called “entitlements,” by making access more challenging and administrative rules less flexible. And, for those who “qualify,” the quality of the food, shelter and other services provided is designed to send the message: “If you had any pride you wouldn’t settle for this.”
To call something that identifies someone as needy and is presented to them with grudging condescension an “entitlement,” is a perfect perversion of language.
Entitlement really means what titled people assume to be their due; the special treatment ordinary people give to their betters. It’s not given with grudging condescension, but with reflexive deference. Once upon a time, entitlements were conferred by royalty to who got their title from God. So there.
Nowadays the title that seems to matter most in politics and life is “Billionaire.”
So, it should be no surprise that billionaires like Elon Musk of Tesla and Jeff Bezos of Amazon are demanding and getting the biggest entitlements – in the Fox News sense – the most expensive government-mandated handouts or diversions from the public treasury.
I guess it should be no surprise that these guys worth – in financial terms at least – billions; running companies, like Amazon, making billions a year in profits, feel entitled to pay less than their share in taxes, feel comfortable asking ordinary Joe and Joans to carry them – like Lord Chestershire in his sedan chair – from one palace to the next.
Overthrowing the politics of entitlement (special advantages to the rich and royally connected) was what the American revolution was all about. Instead, the 13 states united around the idea that, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” were blessings all who bore the title “Citizen” were guaranteed. Who doubts that pursuing happiness, much less life and liberty is impossible without food and shelter?
The poor, investment-starved citizens of Albuquerque yearned for Amazon and actually thought Tesla might give them a shot. Whew! We dodged that bullet and Tesla took a ton of benefits from Nevada instead; for a location that probably suited them best even without a public subsidy, a short straight shot down an interstate from their plant site to their favorite Pacific port.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City mayor Bill DiBlasio, like the Nevada politicians who lured Tesla to their state, celebrated what they called their “victory.” But economic studies show expecting tax subsidies or borrowing facilitations to pay off in jobs, wages and revenues returned to the state is – to put it in terms Nevadans understand – like betting against the house. Sometimes you win, but the odds are always against you.
Tesla’s deal in Nevada was dwarfed in economic and public relations value by the recent double-dip served up to Amazon by Long Island City, Queens, New York and Arlington, Virginia.
Bryce Covert is an independent journalist writing about the economy. She is a contributing op-ed writer at the New York Times and a contributing writer at The Nation. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, the New Republic, Slate, and others, and she won a 2016 Exceptional Merit in Media Award from the National Women’s Political Caucus. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, NPR, and other outlets.
She was previously Economic Editor at ThinkProgress, Editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog, and a contributor at Forbes. She also worked as a financial reporter and head of the energy sector at merger market, an online newswire that is part of the Financial Times group.