“You are entitled to nothing,” says Frank Underwood, the protagonist of popular Netflix show House of Cards. This statement, reflecting Underwood’s tireless work ethic and ambition, is particularly relevant in our day and age given the rise of the current narcissistic “Me” culture. A growing sense of entitlement has implications for the fiscal health of our nation–and more importantly, it risks creating a culture of dependency rather than initiative and effort.
Our current budget is dominated by entitlement spending. According to the Congressional Budget Office, by 2024, 85% of the budget’s spending growth will come from entitlements and interest on the national debt. Entitlement programs, and by extension the entitlement culture, pose grave dangers to America’s debt and economy.
Combine the increased cost of healthcare, the rising median age of death, and large segments of the baby boomer generation now entering retirement and you get one big, hot mess. More people are living longer on more drugs than ever before, and all that results in massive increases in Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare spending.
To make it even simpler, here is a diagram of where every dollar spent by the federal government ends up. The next time someone tries to tell you that military spending is killing this country, show them this. Healthcare and Social Security, alone, represent 49% of every dollar we spend! Throw in all the other social programs for an additional 20%, and one can see that almost 70% of our budget is immediately directed to programs we cannot afford.
But deficits, debt, and increased mandatory entitlement spending are only symptoms of a larger problem: Our culture prefers the words “free” and “entitled” instead of “opportunity” and “earn.”
The media perpetuates the myth of free stuff in big, bold letters and bright colors. You get a “free” toy with your Happy Meal. Buy one, get one “free.” The list goes on and on, but are those things really free? Of course not, you pay for them. The cost of the toy is secretly tacked on to your Happy Meal and the cost of other merchandise is jacked up to account for revenue lost from the one “free” item.
If there is one thing I have learned time and again, it is that nothing in life is free. Somebody always has to pay; however, our culture throws around the word “free” so easily that it infects our very nature and we start coming up with ideas like “free” college or “free” services, as if they just emerge out of thin air. When a culture becomes inundated and obsessed with “free” things, it begins to spend out of control, until eventually, the “free” stuff becomes unaffordable. We do not have to look far for real-life examples proving this principle: the European debt crisis is a perfect illustration of Margaret Thatcher’s observation that governments “always run out of other people’s money.”
And so I repeat: “You are entitled to nothing.” As a culture, we need to restore a sense of fiscal responsibility and financial understanding. Stop acting “entitled,” treating everything like it is “free.” You are not entitled to the same material things as someone else–to think so is an example of envy, not social justice or fairness.
An op-ed by Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institute, identifies three practical steps to be in the middle class: graduate high school, get a full time job, and wait until 21 to be married and have children. Of the Americans that followed these three steps, only two percent found themselves in poverty and 75% rose to the middle class (making $55,000 or more). This is a worthy path to material sufficiency, independence, and self-fulfillment, in contrast to the fiscally unsustainable myth of eternal handouts and free stuff.
Americans face a choice: continue down the road to dependency or work hard to create a culture that embraces entrepreneurship, creativity, and opportunity. The consequences of being an entitlement nation have been spelled out time and again throughout history (and in the modern world). Will we make the same mistake?