A Tale of Two Attitudes

The entitlement generation is consuming the America built up by its predecessors with nothing to show for its efforts. 

America was founded upon the idea that maximum personal liberty tempered by personal responsibility would be possible through a minimum set of laws and that this situation would unleash the creativity of Americans to build unprecedented wealth. A man naturally works harder to realize his dream than he does to realize someone else’s dream. This concept is embodied in the pursuit of happiness phrase of the Declaration of Independence. People shouldn’t be told what to do, they should decide for themselves what they want to do and be free to pursue that dream with as few obstacles as possible to overcome in that pursuit. This idea of personal liberty served America well and her people quickly set about increasing the nation’s wealth. The idea that hard work could lead to success became entrenched in the national psyche and has endured as an American idea readily identified around the world.

As the population grew, Americans expanded westward settling the frontier and gradually increasing both the size and the wealth of the country. Americans have always held freedom dear, and a certain segment moved westward to escape the limited restraints imposed as a necessity by civilization as realized through a government dedicated to the least imposition upon its citizens. These pioneers blazed a trail for others to follow and the west became noted for even more fierce loyalty to the idea of individualism whereby a man relied upon his own efforts to survive have given up the protection of numbers afforded by the company of his fellow citizens to breath the freest air possible.

Freedom was precious to our forefathers because it was won at such great sacrifice against tremendous odds and pursued with such tenacity by rugged individuals dedicated to the idea of determining their own way in the world. Inevitably though, civilization spread westward in the wake of those early pioneers and America’s increasing wealth allowed for less tumultuous forms of survival that didn’t involve defending oneself from wild animals or marauding Indians. The Industrial Revolution saw the rise of cities and factories where people toiled to earn their survival. Americans slowly began to shift away from the ability to survive through hunting and agriculture where life’s basic necessities could be met with little need for money towards an existence completely dependent upon others to earn the money with which they could purchase life’s necessities.

The Industrial Revolution resulted in a tremendous buildup in American wealth and saw America rise to the status of a world power in just over a hundred years. We went from the struggle to win independence from Great Britain in 1776 to the victory over Spain around the world in the Spanish American war of 1898. However, a pernicious unintended consequence of industrialization was the subservience of freedom loving American workers to others who controlled the means for their survival and often exploited these positions to the detriment of the very laborers on which they depended. One result of this situation was the formation of labor unions where workers banded together to challenge the powers that be for better working conditions and a stronger voice in the determination of their future. The labor movement was not much different than the patriots who banded together to challenge the power of Great Britain in determining the future of Americans who resisted their edicts. However, the labor movement was co-opted by the socialists and communists whose siren songs of worker control over the means of production and equality of wealth were especially appealing during such a time of massive wealth inequality and worker exploitation.

Labor unions managed to gradually improve working conditions and laws were eventually passed to protect workers from the more egregious forms of exploitation. America’s wealth continued to grow and its standard of living continued to improve for all of its citizens. As the labor unions accomplished their original mission of improving working conditions, it began to cast about for new reasons to exist and settled upon the push for ever increasing wage and benefit packages. This push aligned with its socialist influences and provided a reason for its continued existence instead of scaling back and remaining vigilant in defense of improved working conditions. The original mission had long been satisfied, but the passion and infrastructure remained. The plight of workers had been brought to the attention of government and laws passed to protect those workers.

A new generation of socialist agitators began to find ways to expand beyond the labor movement to extend their influence over an America they regarded as unfair and oppressive. They were unwilling to subscribe to the notion that hard work led to success and sought to find success through other means. This new generation adopted the tactics of Saul Alinsky to overwhelm American institutions and use their powers of collectivism to disrupt mechanisms created as a last resort social safety net for Americans needing a helping hand. These socialists targeted the New York welfare system with a deluge in new applicants resulting in an explosion of their budget which quickly overwhelmed the ability of local government to meet this manufactured demand. New York eventually went broke in the 1970s as a direct result of these tactics. An exercise by Alinsky to overwhelm the system gradually numbed people to the social stigma of receiving public assistance to the point where they came to demand such assistance in lieu of actually working for a living.

America was founded upon the idea that hard work leads to success, and this idea served us well to take us from a struggling colonial outpost to a world superpower. Along the way, we won two world wars, defeated communism in the cold war, and put men on the moon in an astounding feat of technological prowess. Our scientists and engineers, following the recipe of hard work leading to success, managed to invent the airplane and powered flight, create the nuclear weapons which ended WWII, invent and perfect microelectronics which we now take for granted, and generally raise our standard of living to the highest point in world history.

What has the entitlement generation managed to contribute to America’s success? I’m not referring to those who continue to work hard as there will always be exceptions to the rule, but to that segment of the population content to demand that government provide them with the means to survive with no effort on their part. They’ve given us rampant social diseases, contrived art of questionable taste, massive government debt paying for their insatiable demand, and an attitude that seeks fulfillment at the expense of others. Our military has been decimated and continues to decline. Gone is the ability to win a world war along with the political desire to even try. Our predecessors demanded unconditional surrender in WWII and defeated our enemies to obtain it, while the current generation negotiates with the Taliban to exit Afghanistan, even though our military initially defeated them in less than six weeks.

Space exploration has been relegated to history with the retirement of the space shuttles and remains only in the imagination of science fiction writers. The insatiable budgetary demands of the entitlement generation leave no room for lofty ideas of returning to the moon or the exploration of Mars. America once reveled in beating the Soviets to the moon with rudimentary technology currently surpassed by a cheap calculator. Today our space program lies in museums which compete with these growing entitlement programs for ever scarcer resources in ever shrinking budgets just to remain open.

The attitude of hard work raised up an America which became the world’s sole superpower while the attitude of entitlement is squandering its wealth and sinking it further into decline. America has the ability to reverse this decline and regain her former glory, but it does not have the political will to pursue the course necessary to ensure its survival as the world’s lone superpower. Europe provides a case study in entitlement run amok, and we see Greeks, Spaniards, Italians, and French rioting in protest of losing the benefits to which they’ve become accustomed despite the inability of their respective states to continue providing them. Europe was able to overindulge in entitlements secure in the belief that American consumption would continue to support the global economy. As our economic slowdown has threatened this arrangement, European leaders have warned American leaders not to follow their example of unrestrained cradle-to-grave entitlement spending. They prefer that we continue to work hard to support their ability to live luxuriously, much the same way as Americans of the entitlement mentality prefer to be supported by her productive class.

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