020705_1579_0012_lslsEntitlement reform cannot succeed by eliminating dependence, says Adam J. MacLeod. Instead we should aim to promote healthy dependencies.

In his address, Obama placed entitlement programs in perspective, observing that many people fall on hard times through no fault of their own. “We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives,” he said, “any one of us at any time may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm.” He lamented a bygone era “when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.”

Here the president touched on a very real concern for many Americans: the fear of being left to fend for oneself. While economic rights are reasonably viewed as liberating, their liberating function can be overstated. Humans are by nature dependent beings. Even independently wealthy people are dependent upon others for goods such as friendship, art, and learning. And most people are not independently wealthy.

So lawmakers cannot, and should not attempt to, do away with humans’ dependence upon others. Instead, they should aim to foster healthy dependencies and to eradicate unhealthy ones. At its best, law does not free us from others but instead channels our dependence toward those who will take our wellbeing into consideration and act upon it. It encourages moral connections between dependent people and other dependent people.

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