It’s Not Free If You Paid For It, Goddammit.

adverb: free
  1. 1.
    without cost or payment.
    “ladies were admitted free”
    synonyms: without charge, free of charge, for nothing;

So we’re clear, the definition of “free” is, as described above, “something you don’t pay for.”

I shouldn’t need to explain that, but it seems lost on a number of people, particularly when issues like nationalized healthcare or nationalized education through college level come up. Somehow, these things get categorized as “free healthcare” or “free education,” despite the fact that everybody would, in fact, be paying for these things–the same way we pay for elementary schools, roads, policemen, firemen, and soldiers. Oddly enough, nobody ever bitches about “free firefighters” when someone’s house is burning down or “free cops” when someone opens fire in a shopping mall. For reasons I have yet to determine, that’s “our tax dollars at work”, while diverting tax money to doctors and universities is somehow “free services.”

This is simply ridiculous. Debates about healthcare and education, or any other use of tax money to fund services for that promote the general welfare, should never be mis-categorized as “free.” Rather, discussions about these and other issues should be openly and honestly debated as a discourse on the proper use, disbursement and apportionment of public moneys toward various purposes, and not about providing “free” anything to anyone. When I pay my taxes I would like to see the monies go toward various causes, and not to go toward others. We live in an ostensibly democratic society, so there will be some give and take–not everyone wants public monies to disburse as I see fit, which is why we debate and legislate how it will be spent. That said, I get annoyed when I hear anyone categorize some form of public spending with which they disagree as “free {insert cause with which you disagree}.”

It’s not free. We pay for it. It’s the same argument I have against the casual misuse of the term “entitlements” to describe Medicare or Social Security. These are not “entitlements” except in the strictest definition of the term:  “the fact of having a right to something.” The word gets bandied about with a tertiary definition, “the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment,” but this is bullshit. We do have a right to Social Security and Medicare. We have that right because we paid for it. We have that right the same way we have the right to anything we paid for. If I give you 3 dollars for a crappy, dried out burger at your fast food restaurant and then expect to get a crappy, dried out burger, that’s not expecting an entitlement as “the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment,” that’s “the fact of having a right to something,” such as “that thing I just fucking paid you for.”  Medicare and Social Security aren’t special rights, they are things they have been billing us for our entire working lives, and any attempt to adjust the payout rate, conditions of eligibility, or any management policies that could significantly restructure the terms of remuneration on a contract already defined constitutes reneging on the original agreement.

“Free” higher education isn’t free, it’s something we all choose to pay for, just like we all choose to pay for firemen even if our houses have never gone up in flames and we all pay for police even if we’ve never never been robbed. Just like we all pay for roads we’ll never drive on. Be honest: have you actually driven down every single street in your city or town, just to say you got your taxpayer’s dollar worth? “Free” healthcare is a distribution and amortization of expense the same as our existing insurance system, the primary and only significant difference being that private insurance companies require a profit margin and are thus motivated to minimize treatment to preserve that margin, whereas a government regulated system can focus primarily on patient outcome instead of profitability. “Free” higher education is an investment in the future of the country and a hedge to ensure our continued technological and scientific leadership in the world.

I don’t mind a debate about the priorities our tax dollars are applied towards, but do mind when any party to the debate, individual or political, recasts the argument with bullshit adjectives like “free” when they are anything but. The Post Office isn’t free. The court system isn’t free. The FBI isn’t free. The military isn’t free. The difference is, nobody ever makes a lame argument that any of these entities are. We acknowledge that they are funded with our tax dollars. It is dishonest, disingenuous and disgusting when any politician or pundit casts the diversion of tax dollars towards new expressions of the greater public good as “free” handouts.

It’s not free if you’re paying for it.

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