The Difference Between Rights and Entitlements

by on January 22nd, 2010

Some people, especially so-called progressives, do not seem to understand the difference between rights and entitlements. So, for their edification, I’m going to try to explain the distinction between these two concepts.

Rights are God-given. Other people can take them away, and may also defend them for you, but they cannot give them to you. Rights include the freedom to do as one pleases (within certain limitations) and the opportunity to excel, achieve, and succeed. They also consist of the freedom from being harmed by or unduly burdened or inconvenienced by the government and others, as well as the privilege to serve or give in any way that one chooses.

Examples of rights include those set forth in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights, such the freedom of speech, religion, and assembly, the right to bear arms, and the freedom from double jeopardy, self-incrimination, and unreasonable search and seizure. Rights do not include money, material items, or services. Therefore, you do not have a right to forcibly take these things from others or authorize the government to perform this kind of confiscation for you.

Entitlements, one the other hand, are established by governments via elected representatives or direct votes by the people. They include money, material items, services, and various forms of aid and assistance. Entitlements can be initiated or revoked at any time. Entitlements can be fully or partially earned. Examples of earned entitlements are Social Security and Medicare, for which the recipient generally contributes while he or she is working.

However, many entitlements are completely unearned. Examples of these would be food stamps, welfare, and Medicaid. Emergency aid such as that which is provided by FEMA is another example. Some would argue that these things are earned as well, via one’s tax dollars. But that’s a fallacious argument, as many of those who receive this kind of stuff pay little or nothing in taxes, while most of those in the highest tax brackets never receive anything from these programs.

I hope this has helped you appreciate the difference between rights and entitlements. It is important to know the difference because politicians, demagogues, and other scoundrels will often intentionally attempt to confuse the two for their own selfish purposes. Unfortunately, the ignorant (and greedy) masses will often fall prey to them and swallow their deception — hook, line, and sinker.

Terry Mitchell