Imaginary political arguments: the obligations of society to citizens

Sometimes I imagine myself arguing with Bill O'Reilly.  I'm bad at it -- I'm sure if I actually tried to defend my politics on his show I'd get owned.  (Not because he'd be right, but because he's a professional at making people sound wrong to his audience on TV.) I'm not trying to think through my actual views.  That's not the game.  The game is to come up with ways to use conservative presumptions about the world to force a conclusion that's similar in function to my beliefs, forcing an intellectually consistent opponent to agree with me.*

Today, I was imagining the responsibilities of the poor, and the idea of entitlement.  (I'm not going to try and actually write a back-and-forth with O'Reilly, that's a little more effort than I have time for today.)


If people in a society aren't entitled to anything, they cannot be expected to owe anything.  If we want to hold people responsible for anti-social behavior, we have to agree that there are things that pro-social behavior entitles them to.

Further, we can't blame people for anti-social behavior if pro-social behavior doesn't earn them enough benefit to outweigh the benefit of the anti-social behavior.

We can see this clearly laid out in the justification for the American Revolution.  I think it's safe to agree that war is an antisocial activity.  But we think of the American people as justified in rebelling.  Why?

Because the British government wasn't offering us enough to justify our pro-social cooperation.  We felt we could do better as a nation if we threw them off, so we did.

Now, America is an individualist nation.  We can't assume that we need to reach some sort of communistic agreement between all citizens before we decide whether disruption is appropriate or not.  Certainly, America started pursuing the revolution long before even a majority of Americans were on board with the idea -- even the debate and propaganda is anti-social, insofar as the social order is subjugation to the British crown.

So we can't say that rejecting the social order based on a notion of unmet entitlement is okay for the nation, but not okay for individuals.

Then, what entitlements are enough?

It can't be none.  That's absolutely clear:  if a person isn't entitled to anything from their government, then America has no justification in having rebelled.

It must at least include survival.  We can expect people to act in anti-social ways if it's the only way to get food and shelter, so if the government doesn't supply food and shelter or the means to get it, we can't expect anyone to agree to the legitimacy of that government.

And it must involve other protections as well:  if a person is threatened with violence or catastrophe, the government has to be ready to step in.  There's the police force and the fire department.  People would have to take up arms on their own, if there weren't an organized military.  So that's necessary.  And millions of examples have shown that people will do whatever it takes to get healthcare, so the government has to make that accessible.

Then, what do the people owe in return?

Well, first of all, taxes.  That's easy enough to agree to.  They also have to agree to pro-social behavior:  obedience to a code of laws.  But they are, in that case, entitled to a genuinely pro-social law code.  And those taxes can't reduce their resources to beneath a state of survival.

Do they have to agree to work?  That's one of the assumptions we definitely make in this dialogue.  People have to work if they want to earn survival.  But, then, working must always be an accessible option.  That means the government would have to step in to provide jobs for people without jobs.  An unemployment rate of above zero would be unacceptable -- people who couldn't find work would be morally justified in anti-social behavior.

And then, that work has to be good enough to meet a reasonable standard of living, or else it may be more profitable to prey on the cooperating citizens, which has better hours and probably a higher quality of life.  We know this to be legitimate because the American Revolution involved stealing 13 colonies worth of England's stuff.

So, we have: affordable housing, healthcare, and food, access to reasonably scheduled work at a living wage, either a guarantee of a job or a system of support for the unemployed,  and a just law code with good enforcement.

Anyone see anything I missed?


*Note: I know this doesn't work.  I realize that most political reasoning starts with the conclusion and the reasons are constructed to hold it in place.