Entitlement Culture: The Disease of the Rich… and the Poor

With the bold, sensational tagline, “Teen Avoids Prison Because He’s Wealthy,” the court case of Ethan Couch has become a lightning rod of controversy, stirring up already-volatile sentiments of the rich vs. poor dichotomy.  Before we can dissect the issues surrounding this case, its resolution, and the subsequent backlash, we need to establish a basic understanding of how we got to this point.

Spoiler Alert: Not how we got here.

For thousands of years, the issue of the disparity between wealth and poverty merely simmered (with some exceptions, obviously), with the rich and poor both dismissing each other as different species of people.  The rich looked down on the peasants, but the great leaders were compassionate toward them, and treated them with dignity and aimed to protect them, if nothing else.  The peasants, in kind, revered the rich for their fortunate lots in life and dreamt of being wealthy themselves.

As time passed, and wealth grew to be less and less about blood running through veins and more about hard work, innovation, and opportunism, some of the less wealthy started to become inspired to achieve greatness themselves.  Others saw this example, and hope for a better future became a great companion through life.  Still adored for their status and power, the rich were now a slightly less exclusive group.  While still difficult to breach, the walls had been proven penetrable.

Google “penetrable”.  6000 pages of this.

Although the phrase wasn’t coined until the turn of the twentieth century, the “Protestant Work Ethic” was born in the 1500s.  Prior to its development, the way of the western world—primarily for Catholics—had always been to live a good life, confess sins, and pray for good fortunes (of course I’m simplifying things so as to avoid derailing the treatment of the topic at hand).  Suddenly, blind faith and helplessness was supplanted by a belief that hard work was good for everyone, and that good things would come to those who would work for them.  This shift had a profound impact as the Industrial Revolution hit its stride.  A willingness and eagerness to work, in tandem with a plentiful amount of work to be done, created a magnificent whirlwind of productivity.

Ahh yes, plenty of work for everyone…

Unfortunately, as the nineteenth and twentieth centuries progressed, notions such as communism, socialism, fascism, and other flawed economic systems crept up. Although entire economies based on these ideals have failed time and time again, some people romanticize the concepts and attempt to apply them to systems that do work.  Capitalism and democracy go hand in hand, and when allowed to work with minimal restrictions (protections against fraud and coercion are necessary), the system performs efficiently.  Problems arise when the tenets of socialism, for example, are introduced into the free market system.  Suddenly, people who have worked hard for their earnings are being coerced to share them with others, some of whom have not worked to earn their portions.

The result of these forced socialist policies is an atmosphere of entitlement thinking, which brings us back to the original topic.  On one hand, we have entitlement thinking in the ranks of young wealthy kids who can “get away with murder” (or, in this case, vehicular manslaughter) because they’re raised without the benefit of values such as hard work, responsibility, respect, and accountability.  “No one ever taught me not to kill people” should not be an acceptable excuse for the reckless operation of a vehicle while intoxicated.

But what about the opposite end of the financial spectrum?  Don’t we send the same entitlement messages to our poor youth as well?  We live in a society now that seems to encourage poverty.  If you’re in the bottom tax bracket, you might be compelled to scrape and claw your way out by putting your mind and body to work to achieve success.  You might be, but you’re much less likely to feel the strain of being at the bottom in this environment of socialism.  Any encouragement to pull yourself up by the bootstraps has been replaced by social programs like Welfare and Food Stamps, which give you all you need to survive for free!  If you’re poor, your health care is provided.  Your child care is provided.  Your groceries are paid for.  Your rent is subsidized by the government.  You have no significant reason to apply yourself.  If you do little enough, you will be rewarded.

I know that these systems are in place to help people, and that a lot of good folks have used them for their intended purposes.  But there is no denying that some people have abused these social programs in the past, and will continue to do so.  At this point in time, they have no motivation not to.  That’s a dangerously slippery slope, because while not everyone has the opportunity to be rich, every individual certainly has the ability to be poor.

Work ethic, self respect, and a family’s reputation used to be so important that people were ashamed to fail.  Now, we live in a world where kids drink and drive and kill people and know the consequences will be laughable.  We also live in a world where the poor can get every type of assistance in order to get on their feet, but who of us would rather stand when sitting can be so comfortable?

I’m a believer that the poor aren’t stuck being poor.  Education is readily available and help is plentiful.  Success is attainable for everyone.  But we as a society have to be willing to allow a few people to fail in order for the many to see that they don’t want to end up that way.  Motivation to better one’s life will only come when the handouts dry up.  It’s time to end the entitlement culture—for richer, for poorer.



~ by hamiltonjacobs on December 17, 2013.

One Response to “Entitlement Culture: The Disease of the Rich… and the Poor”

  1. Loved the last sentence. Whatever happened to pride and values. I couldn’t sign up for welfare if I was starving. Entitlement culture has been learned. Some people don’t seem to have pride these days. And those same people have not learned the value of the work ethic that my father taught me. And this attitude from low income people that the rich or middle class owe it to them is unbelievable to me. I worked hard for what I have. I worked a 40 hour week, took two classes a night, and raised a son and had a husband and household to get what I have today. What makes low income people think I owe it to them to share what I suffered through to get where I am today. It’s been learned! That’s why. They don’t have pride; they’ve never been taught values of a hard days work. My dad used to say that if you gave a rich man 20 bucks, he’d put it in the bank and if you gave a poor man 20 bucks, he’d take the day off to spend it.

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