This Hangs on the way to my bathroom. I see it several times every day
Entitlement is in the news, income inequality is in the news. Obama calls it “the defining challenge of our time” and all the internet search engines comply and rank his words number one in a search, as if this was never said before.
Actually he did so himself in a December 2011 speech when he painted the 50s and 60s as a cherished time of value in America. Those who grew up in those years can challenge this perception of the truth by only reminding us of the treatment of blacks, women and migrant workers in those decades. Calling them a period of value is grasping at political straws.
In my all-time favorite Elton John song “Indian Sunset”, Bernie Taupin wrote: “I take only what is mine Lord, my pony, my squaw and my child.” On the wall in my music room hangs a painting I got for Christmas last year from the youngest daughter. It says “I take only what is mine”. I cherish that “home made” gift beyond any amount of money, because it has over the years become my life’s guiding principle. And no I don’t intend to get all political on you when I remind you of last year’s campaign fallacy when Obama preached the words “you didn’t build that”. I built whatever I built the hard way, the smart way and sometimes the ignorant way. And yes, every effort was supported by a facilitating infrastructure, and sabotaged by ever strangling government regulations and barricades.
As a generation we (the boomers) sold out for the “ignorance of greed” that we started adopting in the early 80s and have now perfected into a lifestyle of deserving. If you want to get a glimpse of what will come out of that attitude then watch this rather disturbing video where the woman portrays a real life poster model for the Age of Entitlement. Apparently by virtue of the fact that she vehemently believes it is her God-given right to be served Chicken McNuggets at 10:30 in the morning and, when disappointed in her demand, almost literally turns into a crazed zombie, singlehandedly making sure that the next chapter for all drive-thru windows anywhere is going to include a taser under the counter.
And that over a fast food product that recently came in the news for containing less than 50% chicken meat while the remainder was a concoction of fat, blood vessels,nerve, connective tissue and ground bone.
Inequality Goes Viral
I know, like most of us, that politicians use, borrow or steal any good line or expression to make them look good in the eyes of the people but with a substantial dose of irony I think this time Obama is trying to ride on the coat tails of an increasingly popular Pope in the Vatican, who addressed something similar several weeks ago. Good man that Pope, no doubt full of good intentions, but also barking up the wrong tree. Contrary to popular belief these days, I do think that capitalism is the only saving grace for humanity. I will need to explain that statement and I promise I will in a near future blog, but for the pope to use the words “the tyranny of capitalism” makes me want to point out that at the end of his reign, history will judge him only on the challenge to keep Roman Catholicism a world religion, not his record for political grandstanding on topics like income equality.
And Obama…oh he is probably just thankful that several shifts on other hot issues have taken the focus away from the “Affordable Care Act website debacle” for awhile and who knows maybe the next debt ceiling debates, Chinese airspace incidents or Syria compromises. Clear is by now that Obama’s presidency is over the board with no clear focus on dealing with a concentrated issue, work up a solution and then move on to the next. When writing this down I had to think about this wonderful video that shares not only talent and perseverance, but above all it embodies total focus and a paced yet determined execution of the process.
Lack of Focus however is not Obama’s personal problem; it is America’s problem.
It is the Culture of Entitlement that has caught this nation and much of the western world in a death knell of gigantic proportions, only covered up by the greatest debasement of a currency ever.
These days everyone is somehow entitled to something or another. And because everyone feels that their contribution to society and human progress is invaluable, an entitlement is justified over and above another person. And that how we as a nation, or if you will western society, have ended up eating our children and grandchildren’s lunch and dinner.
An entitlement comes in different shapes and forms and when contractually stipulated, an entitlement is absolutely and morally correct, albeit not always collectible! A lot like a judgement that is not collectible. Circumstances vary.
There are numerous songs, books, poems, movies that all play with the assumption that life is not necessarily fair, yet entitlements over recent decades have turned into something that apparently is written in blood; and in our current state I would say, with the blood of our children and their born and unborn children.
Over the ages financial and/or power status implied some entitlements. Entitlements are often natural forms of respect, admiration or simply consideration. Getting up out of a seat for an older person in a train or bus is usually a consideration. Expecting to be served first because your car is the only $100,000 plus car in the parking lot cracks my facade. While I begrudge no one their wealth, per above, when someone begins to confuse wealth with entitlement, I have a problem… and so do they.
That said, I have come across any number of wealthy individuals who enjoy nothing more than lording their good fortune over the rest of humanity. More often than not, the wealthy who fall into this subset made their fortunes by being in the right place at the right time, for example dot-com millionaires and especially members of the lucky-sperm club.
In earlier sidelines of my life, I spent a fair amount of time hanging out with mirror on the wall street types, pseudo artists, purchased nobility and nouveau rich with a tendency to get coiffed in scented salons by people named Oscar at $500 a go.
In way too many cases, the source of their wealth could easily be traced back to university connections that landed them in the upper echelon of the equivalent of a pyramid scheme where, with hardly having to lift a finger, a fraction of a fraction of billions of dollars in transactions flowed daily into their Bond Street custom-stitched pockets.
I’ve learned that the inflatable wealthy not only expect full value for money, they want everyone to walk in their shadow to be of service and to cater to their every whim. Failure to show proper appreciation that you are in their company will, as sure as January 1 will ring in 2014, get you a dismissive sniff or, if it’s a bad hair day, a proper dressing down or worse
So where do we start with addressing entitlements. Where do we start telling President Obama that enough is enough, inspite of his new-awakened passion to alienate the wealthy into picking up their stretchers and move out in larger numbers than they already do these days. Well here is a rundown of what can be called today’s Entitlement Classes and their positions in the conflict.
Politicians are most definitely an entitlement class all by themselves. If you have any problem accepting that then it’s time to understand what you pay Washington for the pleasure of being your elected leaders. They make exemptions in hated laws to benefit their own and once they decide that politics is no longer their passion they are a class of individuals entitled to a long list of benefits. Including—should they rise high enough within the political machine—ready access to private jets and a lifelong pension.
On a lower level, while lifelong pensions have all but disappeared in the private sector, by virtue of just showing up at the office each day for a few years, many bureaucrats become entitled to the equivalent of tenure and, upon concluding their “public service,” a comfortable pension.
Remember the term coming into existence in the early 1980? My God I had just landed in the US, ready to take on a new chapter in my life and the first words I heard a crazy twenty-something woman utter in a whiney voice at the luggage inspection was : “But I deserve it!” After the initial shock I quickly learned to find it entertaining when observing the yuppie’s antics as they attempt to argue a plane back on schedule, or explain to a hotel manager that they deserve entitled treatment. Of course it becomes human greed that supports this entitlement attitude after a $20 bill quickly changes hands.
In my opinion, and yes I could be wrong, this sense of yuppie entitlement comes from the near certainty that never before in the history of the world has there been a generation that has had things as soft and sweet as the yuppies/baby boomers.
I remember a colleague in my real estate company who had just received his first Diners Club Card sometime in the mid 1970s. He actually waved the card under the maitre-d’s face when walking into a restaurant to impress his importance!
Most of us have had a lifetime of prosperity and peace – at least no wars in the calibre of World War II)
We got to go to college if we were so inclined, and we were pretty much ensured gainful employment whether we went to college or not. Unfortunately, a large number of yuppies don’t fully appreciate what an historical rarity such a long period of peace and prosperity is. They will be in for a rough awakening as Pax Yuppie is rapidly coming to an end. Their future expectations, understandably based on past experiences, are likely to be somewhat disappointed .
But even so there is a vague awakening about life’s realities, they continue to feel entitled to a life path free of serious bumps, though the unnerving sound of footsteps approaching down the empty hallway scratch at the edge of their collective consciousness.
Over the last century, responsibility for the care and feeding of the elderly has been steadily transferred from families to society at large. This alteration of the social contract, though likely springing from good intentions, is manifested in the widespread attitude that the state should provide at least a baseline level of support for the elderly, even if the state can’t actually afford it.
This sense of entitlement is underscored each election day when the oldsters turn out in droves to reward politicians who confirm them in their benefits, and punish those that even hint at curtailing same.
Like the elderly, over the past century the social contract was redrafted to include a long list of benefits for individuals who steadily fail to achieve a certain income threshold. Collectively, the number of programs and their reach is staggering. To provide just one example, upwards of 50 million people in the United States are now entitled to purchase their daily bread using debit cards linked to the public treasury.
And then there are the special groups of Entitlement Classes and yes I realize I will offend a bunch of people in the various societal groups that need to be addressed but I would love to bring your attention to your fellow citizens who use their specialness to demand special rights and entitlements even though we all seem to at least get a sense of where this all his heading. The following entitlement solicitors only represent a handful in a society that has turned entitled, no matter the financial consequences. Here are just a few…
For example, though at its peak only 8% of American families owned slaves and the practice was terminated by constitutional amendment almost 150 years ago, many descendants of the slaves continue to believe they suffer trans-generational trauma and are entitled to government remediation programs without end. Entitlements here stretch into linguistic political correctness, but at least that usually does not carry a public price tag.
The forms the entitlements to minorities take vary from cold cash to preferential treatment in college admissions and a broad rainbow of other perks. Why, about a group of university graduate students consisting largely of people “of color” who apparently believe that their special status entitles them to be able to submit university-level work riddled with grammatical errors, protesting that being graded on grammar contributed to a “toxic racial climate.”
A fairly substantial subset of the populace seem to want to define themselves based on their sexual preference. Live and let live, I say. But why it is that some think their sexual orientation entitles them to special treatment. Frankly that is something of a mystery to me. My close friends Ray and John who recently went to Massachussets to get married because Florida is such an ass backward state, once confided: We don’t want entitlements, just be treated like normal human beings with regards and respect.
In the absence of the draft, no one is forced to sign up for military duty, yet upwards of 180,000 young men and women do each year. Yet once they’re no longer needed or decide to follow other pursuits, they remain entitled to certain benefits for life. Not particularly large benefits, mind you, but special hospitals and a variety of programs to provide support need to be staffed and kept in place to provide this at a substantial cost to the tax-payer, because it’s free to them.
And then of course there’s the top brass who are cosseted in a system of institutional sycophancy replete with nervous salutes from the rank and file, and wining and dining by members of the military-industrial complex. The generals feel entitled to their billion-dollar toys and, mostly, they get them.
Does anyone ever wonder what the dozens of helicopter rides between Mayport and Kings Bay cost and even more importantly if we’re looking at necessity or entitlement when they incessantly come whopping over our beach with doors open and cameras ready on a sunny summer’s day?
Pretty Much Everyone Else.
Unlike earlier eras when self-reliance was a highly valued character trait, these days the vast majority of people in the US and other developed countries expect the government to provide benefits and services to cure all that ails and then some. From housing subsidies, to cash for clunker programs, everyone is entitled.
Off the top of my head just a few examples:
• The government’s exertions to keep our borrowing affordable by suppressing interest rates.
• The provision of free education and subsidies for college.
• the creation of enormous bureaucracies dedicated to ensuring the safety of everything from cars to drugs to food.
• And, increasingly, widespread medical coverage, including cheap medicine.
• Artists, musicians, farmers
• Prisoners of certain crimes
• Paid leave for government workers
Of course I could go on for days, because the list of entitlements is nearly endless as they are directly connected to interest groups. Again, I’m not taking a position on the merits of specific programs, simply pointing out that they exist and have grown far out of proportion over the years. Taken collectively, they have created a self perpetuating culture of entitlement. In my mind I often compare it to a Website I innocently subscribed to several years ago called Care2.com. They originally hooked me with a request to help out in animal abuse cases. I detest animal abuse and the people that practice it, so I was an easy subscription target. Over time, and that is the quintessential word, this website turned into a “take-a stance-on-everything-but mostly-liberal” website without any consideration for financial responsibility, asking me to support their opinion on about everything mankind can screw up or have a skewed opinion on, often drooling with ignorance and presenting entitlement as a god-given right.
Let me make this clear: In my book we are entitled to nothing other than what we have worked for and saved.
How and where to go from here?
If you accept that live has been immersed in an Age of Entitlement — which is not only widespread but ultimately unaffordable and, therefore, entirely consists of undeliverable promises, benefits, services, etc., then you may want to start imagining a glimpse of what lies ahead. And if you think in terms of the Hunger Games, then you’re still daydreaming in terms of entitlements. So be forewarned when I fear that the following will be the guaranteed reactions of the previously introduced entitlement classes.
In an attempt to remain in power and to protect their own entitlements, the politicians can be expected to strike an increasingly populist tone—it’s always been that way. In time, pushed by the entitled masses to do more than just talk, expect the politicians to take off the gloves and begin instituting every manner of harebrained scheme to milk any group of taxpayers lacking the numbers required to provide political cover come election time.
Given that this demographic group is now heading toward the pasture and have been scared stiff by the slow-motion collapse under way, they’re going to do everything in their power to ensure their entitlements stay intact. Which is to say they won’t show up to vote for any party that pledges, upon being elected, to cut said entitlements. Ironically, they will be voting for the very politicians who, as a core reelection strategy, will demonize them and seek to clean them out of a good percentage of whatever net worth remains to them.
Old people vote in droves, and so they count to the politicians… at least for the time being, which means there will be no serious attempt to reduce the massive entitlements they now enjoy.
Given the proven political efficacy of populist appeals, the odds of any (successful) politician thumping the podium in favor of cutting welfare, reducing food stamps or school lunch programs, etc., is approximately zilch. Far more likely is that the politicians will try to shove the financial implications of additional entitlements onto the backs of businesses. Which, in turn, will result in those businesses buying robots and deploying software to reduce their workforce. Just think how many transportation workers will become unemployed when Amazon starts delivering 86% of their sales (packages 5 Lbs and less) with drones.
Meanwhile, encouraged by the politicians, the nation’s poor will be emboldened in demanding more… or else. For the record, the official poverty level in the United States, which is defined as being the amount of money needed to buy a “minimally adequate” basket of goods and services according to the living standards of the 1960s, is currently set at $11,720 annually for a single person, $14,937 for a two-person family, and $23,492 for a family of four.
The latest data show that about 46 million US citizens fall below those levels, the largest number since records first began being kept over 50 years ago. Tellingly, that’s a 36% increase since 2000.
And who makes up the “poor” in the United States? Minorities!
For obvious reasons, the minority population now reflexively votes against the party of Lincoln. In the last presidential contest, a whopping 83% of minority voters cast their votes for the Democrats. This sort of political base is to be catered to, and so it will be. No cuts in entitlements here.
Likewise, those who favor being defined by their sexual preference prefer the Democrats by approximately a 3-to-1 margin. Given the Democrats are fully on board with populist, progressive legislation, expect no demands from this subset for reduced entitlements.
Cut military benefits? Weaken the military’s ability to respond? You must be joking! No one on either side of the political aisle would be stupid enough to advocate either. In time, the military budget will come under pressure—but only until someone in the military-industrial complex finds an excuse for a new war or, failing that, conjures up an imminent threat that must be countered.
…and then of course
Should the wealthy—those with feelings of entitlement or not—come to the conclusion that they’re going to be called upon to carry ever more water for rest of the citizenry, they will react just as they always have. Namely, by hiring the best tax lawyers and accountants possible and exploiting every available loophole (and there are always loopholes). And/or they’ll vote with their feet — moving themselves and, if push comes to shove, their businesses to friendlier shores.
In other words, there is no popular or political will to do anything other than maintain the status quo in this Age of Entitlement. Given that stark truth, all we as individuals can do at this point is sit back and watch the slow-motion train wreck unfold—which, for the record, I’ll be doing from afar. Avé cesar morituri te salute.