The Truth Behind Our Entitlement Culture

Entitlements are two-thirds of the federal budget. Entitlement spending has grown 100-fold over the past 50 years. Half of all American households now rely on government handouts.

When we hear statistics like that, most of us shake our heads and mutter some sort of expletive. That’s because nobody thinks they’re the problem. Nobody ever wants to think they’re the problem.

But that’s not the truth.

The truth is, as long as we continue to think of the rising entitlement culture in America as someone else’s problem, someone else’s fault, we’ll never truly understand it and we’ll have absolutely zero chance of altering its dangerous course.  

The truth is that America’s growing entitlement culture is far more pervasive than people realize. It’s also far more top-down than people realize. Indeed, the entitlement mindset that’s infecting America starts with our leadership, and not just in Washington, either.

The truth is that nobody wants to give up their stuff. Not our congressional leaders with their pork projects and no term limits, not our corrupt and power-hungry regulators, not our ridiculously overcompensated big-company CEOs, not our public union workers, not our overhyped and overpaid celebrities.

And certainly not everyone else. Why? Because, folks have this perception that everyone is getting rich but them. When they see leaders who aren’t held accountable making big bucks they don’t deserve, what do you think happens? That’s right. They become resentful, jealous, angry, and selfish. They want their piece of American Pie. And why shouldn’t they?

So, you want to know what’s fueling our entitlement state? You really want to know? Okay. Here’s the truth:

Out of control executive compensation. In a 1984 essay, Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, argued that executive pay was out of control and lucrative severance packages destroyed accountability. “This is morally and socially unforgivable,” he said, “and we will pay a heavy price for it.”   It’s gotten far, far worse since then. And there’s no end in sight.

Politicians getting rich on perks, trading stocks, speaking engagements, consulting, endorsements, investments, book deals, and who knows how else. No, Al Gore isn’t the only politician to make a fortune off his political clout, but he is, in my opinion, the poster child for hypocritical greed and gluttony. Don’t you find it at all odd how much more money politicians have than they make doing their “jobs?”

All the corruption in the entitlement system. When people see others on the take, they get the sense that it’s okay for them to do the same thing. There are people here in California living in million dollar homes and getting government handouts. No kidding.

Pervasive partisan rhetoric and gridlock. When our leaders in Washington can’t get anything done except divide the nation and point fingers at each other, people become sort of numb to it. So they say to themselves, “If the politicians aren’t getting anything done, if they aren’t earning their pay, then why should I?”

Crony capitalism. When the banks, the regulators, the lobbyists, the Treasury, the Fed, the credit rating agencies, and who knows who else, all get caught with their pants down and American taxpayers have to bail them out, they get sort of fed up. Can you blame them?

Public employee union benefits. Employee contracts, great pay, generous pensions, free healthcare, no wonder all the states and municipalities are going broke. I never thought I’d see the day when it would pay off to be a government bureaucrat. Something’s very, very wrong here.

Out of control government spending. What kind of example does that set for American families? When our government is sitting on a mound of record debt and there’s no accountability, why should Americans be fiscally responsible?

Never let a good crisis go to waste. Whether the Dems are really buying voters by giving them stuff, or the GOP has a bad case of sour grapes it calls “the changing demographics of America,” it doesn’t matter. Neither side misses an opportunity to demagogue the other. And that leaves everyone feeling like they’re being used. It’s demotivating, to say the least.

High corporate tax rates pushing corporations to park profits offshore. I don’t fault our corporations for seeking tax havens in other countries. Our high corporate tax rates and loopholes are to blame. But when companies skirt taxes, what message does that send to the people?

Burden of illegal aliens on society and infrastructure. One of most demoralizing issues for those who jump through all the hoops to immigrate to this country legally is that people who break the law somehow end up with all sorts of handouts anyway.

Athletes and entertainers making ungodly amounts of money. That, and the excesses of all the celebrities, reality TV stars, pop culture icons, and society people like the Kardashians and Lindsay Lohan. That just adds to the jealousy factor and the “where’s my piece of the pie?” mentality. The saddest thing about it is how many of them still end up blowing it and going bankrupt.

It’s in our schools and in our speech. There are no winners or losers anymore. Everyone gets a gold star. Everyone gets an award. There are no individuals, no standouts. We wouldn’t want to offend anyone. Everything has to be inclusive, especially in our politically correct speech. That takes all the power out of the concept of individual responsibility and exceptionalism.

The truth is that America’s growing entitlement culture is coming from everywhere. From our leaders in both the private and public sectors, from our schools, from our speech, from our popular culture, from what our notion of capitalism has become.

And eventually, one way or another, America will collapse under its weight.

Margaret Thatcher once said, “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” Well, we’re not supposed to be a socialist nation, but the problem that Thatcher describes does seem to fit our situation perfectly.

America is indeed changing. And it isn’t somebody else’s fault. It’s yours and mine. And only you and I can change it.

Steve Tobak is a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and former senior executive of the technology industry. Contact Tobak; follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.