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June 24, 2016

Is it Unethical to Accept Government Handouts?

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who expressed disappointment that we were planning to let the government help pay for our healthcare after I "retire." He claimed we would be "mooching off the government and every American taxpayer." I can see where he's coming from, so I think it is worth explaining why I think what we plan plan to do is morally acceptable.

This discussion is specifically about health insurance subsidies provided through the Affordable Care Act, but it could apply to many other government assistance programs as well.

It's About More than Money
I completely understand the argument that it is "wrong" for us to accept a government handout. I am, and will hopefully continue to be fully capable of earning a good wage and paying for everything my family needs. Therefore, to stop working and start getting government assistance is unethical and makes me a leech on society.
But it's not that simple.
While I may be able to work and buy everything my family needs, there are things money can't buy that are more important.

To me, being happy and spending as much time as possible with my daughter in her most impressionable years is the most important and ethical thing I can do.

Who is Harmed?
For something to be truly wrong, I think someone has to get hurt. There has to be a victim.
Our acceptance of a healthcare subsidy will not result in anyone being harmed. You could make the argument that all taxpayers are harmed, but that is a pretty big stretch. The reality is that nobody will directly suffer as a result of our actions, so it can’t possibly be that bad.

Crazy Not To
As far as I can tell, the value of the health insurance we can plan on receiving from the government is about $10,000. That contrasts sharply with the roughly $20,000 in annual taxes we’ve been paying for the last several years. That means we will make a $30,000 swing in our financial battle with the government, and we will finally be on the winning side.
When I look at it like that, it seems crazy not to accept the subsidy.

Change the Rules
This is probably the most damning argument against the Unethical Camp:  according to the rules of the Affordable Care Act, we will qualify for the subsidies. We won't be bending the rules or lying on the application. We will simply qualify as a low income family. There are no rules regarding net worth or ability to earn money.
If it's wrong for us to benefit from this program, they should change the rules. It's that simple.
I certainly won't feel bad following the rules, which brings me to my next point:

Would you give up your government handouts?
If you're arguing we should pass up thousands of dollars worth of government largess, you should do the same. When you stop taking any deductions on your tax return for the benefit of the US budget, come talk to me.
I'm pretty sure most people take every deduction they legally qualify for, along with plenty that stretch legality. We are planning to follow the rules and collect what we are allotted. Nothing more.
When you put it like that, it seems a little silly to ask someone else to turn down money from the government.

Might Be Temporary
This is the most interesting point:  in the long run, the government may collect more from us by providing us with subsidized healthcare in the short term.
When I "retire" I plan to start a business or two that have been on the back-burner for a long time. If these businesses take off and I start earning $400,000/year like Mr. Money Mustache, I will end up paying way more taxes than I would have if I stayed in my old job. That would make this a pretty good investment for the government, but only time will tell.

I Have a Clear Conscience
Overall, I think accepting a healthcare subsidy is an alright thing to do.
Sure, it might be more ethical for me to keep working and pay for our health insurance myself, but I'm willing to accept the slightly less ethical path because it will make me an my family much happier.

Do you think it is OK for an able bodied citizen to benefit from government programs? Let me know in the comments.

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1 comment:

  1. This is hard for me because I see the ugly side of government handouts. I see fraud waste and abuse.I also see my personal battle with medical coverage and the costs I have to pay while working my ass off and I work for an insurance company. I read your posts and wonder if one day I can learn from you so I might be financially responsible and one day be able to retire. I am so happy for you guys that you are going to be able to do what you want. It is not wrong as you have paid into the system probably tenfold.