There are four -- and only four -- reasons why each and every one of you gets up early every morning, works hard at your job all day, and keeps that up at least five days a week for your entire adult life:
1. To take care of your family and give your kids a chance at a better life than you had.
2. If you’re a business owner or a manager, you work to provide competitive products to your customers, fulfilling jobs and growth opportunities for your employees, and value for your investors. In so doing, you also benefit your community.
3. Some of you, like me, are what I call working dogs. Like German Shepherds and Border Collies, we’re wired that way. I’m not sure if it makes us happy, but we’re highly motivated to work and work hard. It’s a big part of who we are.
4. The lucky or blessed among you – depending on your belief system – find your work enjoyable, fulfilling, amusing, intellectually stimulating, emotionally rewarding, perhaps even riveting. You love what you do. You’re passionate about it. You’re living your dream.
Those four reasons don’t just explain why we work. They also describe the motivation behind every consumer and business sales transaction – every dollar of GDP generated in this country. And they more or less explain how America became the most powerful and prosperous nation on Earth.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I look at those four reasons, I can’t help but feel an almost overwhelming sense of humility. In a nutshell, we work to provide health, happiness, and wellbeing to our families, our stakeholders, our businesses, our communities, and of course, ourselves.
Whatever motives the haters, naysayers, whiners, and socialists subscribe to capitalism, you and I know why we do what we do. We know what motivates us.
There are no power-hungry desires for world domination, no grandiose ideals of making the world a better place, and no narcissistic notions of being special or better than anyone else. Obviously, those motives do exist among us, but as exceptions, not as a rule.
And yet, somewhere in the neighborhood of half the people in this country, give or take, don’t share those humble motives. Instead, they’ve chosen to ride the gravy train.
What is the gravy train? The gravy train is where people make good money without working. Where people live well on the backs of others. Where people contribute nothing to the GDP while others foot the bill for their health, happiness, and wellbeing.
People who ride the gravy train are parasites who feed off you and me. If that sounds gross, it should. It’s entirely accurate. And, to make matters worse – far worse – the list of people who ride the gravy train is not only long, it’s growing at an alarming rate.
The number of people riding the gravy train is growing because these parasites thrive and breed wherever there’s no accountability, an entitlement culture, selfish greed and hunger for power. And those conditions don’t just exist in America – they’re becoming more and more pervasive every day.
That’s why America’s debt-to-GDP ratio is now fifth highest in the world behind only Japan, Greece, Ireland, and Italy. Even Belgium, Iceland, Portugal, and France have lower debt-to-GDP ratios than the U.S, if you can believe that. Just seven years ago, we ranked eighteenth highest. That’s a very big change in a very short time.
Why does that matter? Simple. It’s an unsustainable economic bubble. It’s no different than a stock market bubble without the corporate growth and profits to back it up, a real-estate bubble backed by bad loans, an over-leveraged company with too much debt on its balance sheet, or a family living off credit card debt.
There are lots of different failure modes for an unsustainable economic bubble, but one thing’s for sure: if it isn’t brought back down to earth, sooner or later it will find its own way back to earth, and that tends to be catastrophic.
So who are all these parasites that ride the gravy train?
Self-dealing politicians, government administrators, and union leaders that create ludicrous, unfundable, and unsustainable pension burdens. Remember the bankruptcy and government bailout of Detroit’s automakers? Now the city of Detroit is going through the same thing.
Government empire builders. The federal budget was $3.5 trillion last year. If you add all the state and local budgets to that, I wouldn’t be surprised if the total tops $6 trillion. That means 40% of the nation’s gross domestic product goes to funding the government.
The bloated educational system. If you’ve got teenage kids, you know what it costs to send them to college. It’s like another mortgage. Student loan debt is $1.2 trillion. It’s out of control. Not to mention all the taxes we pay to fund our educational system. What does it all pay for? Bloated administrations, among other things. Meanwhile, our students fall further and further behind the rest of the world.
Big company CEOs and their rubber-stamping boards of directors. While it’s true that the vast majority of executives in corporate America are reasonably compensated, that fact is overshadowed by the out-of-control executive compensation and exit packages among America’s biggest companies.
Ambulance chasing lawyers and their greedy clients. Wonder why healthcare costs are sky-high? A big reason is that people sue at the drop of a hat. Two words: Tort reform.
Career politicians, government lobbyists, and regulatory agencies. The level of corruption and cronyism in the unholy alliance between these three groups is staggering. Two more words: Term limits. It’s a good place to start.
Entitlement fraud. Entitlements are two-thirds of the federal budget. Entitlement spending has grown 100-fold over the past 50 years. Half of all American households get some form of government handout. How much of it is fraudulent? Your guess is as good as mine, but it’s certainly big. That’s because government = bureaucracy = no accountability = fraud. The bigger government gets, the bigger the entitlements, the bigger the fraud. Simple as that.
I can go on and on: Protected and favored minority groups, the renewable energy industry, Web 2.0 (internet giants get rich while everyone else gets poor), the self-help industry, the nutritional and dietary supplements industry, professional sports, the entertainment industry – it’s a long and growing list.
Make no mistake. The gravy train’s getting bigger and bigger. If you want to find out why, read The Truth Behind Our Entitlement Culture.
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive and author of the upcoming book, "Real Leaders Don't Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur." Learn more, contact Tobak or follow his new blog at stevetobak.com. Any opinions expressed are those of the columnist.