Why America Needs to Kill Its Entitlement Ideology

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Largely a result of decades of government dependence, too many people today lack the basic concept of personal accountability.  Many view the act of collecting their government benefits (whether they be food stamps, WIC, TANF, or other programs) as an act to which they are entitled.  Yet, few acknowledge that this ideology is politically counter-intuitive, morally alienating, and fiscally unsustainable. The following account of a Walmart employee’s encounters with welfare recipients illuminates not simply a few bad apples, but an ideology of rot.

“I understand that sometimes, people are destitute. They need help, and they accept help from the state in order to feed their families. This is fine. It happens. I’m not against temporary aid helping those who truly need it. What I saw at Wal-Mart, however, was not temporary aid. I witnessed generations of families all relying on the state to buy food and other items. I literally witnessed small children asking their mothers if they could borrow their EBT cards. I once had a man show me his welfare card for an ID to buy alcohol. The man was from Massachusetts. Governor Michael Dukakis’ signature was on his welfare card. Dukakis’ last gubernatorial term ended in January of 1991. I was born in June of 1991. The man had been on welfare my entire life. That’s not how welfare was intended, but sadly, it is what it has become.”

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What we are witnessing as a society is not a few destitute people, but a culture gradually consumed by an ideology that fails to permit returns on personal growth and achievement.  Rather, the welfare-entitlement ideology rewards bad behavior. This is known as perverse incentive in professional circles and has been linked to the actions of our most troubled institutions: banking, investing, education, and of course government.

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The political implications that this destructive force has reached everyday Americans is certainly not without importance.  From the voting booth, the problem is a double-edged sword.  So long as my neighbor feels social justice entitles him to a portion of my paycheck, he is likely to vote in politicians supporting the same ideology.  And a particularly disturbing political phenomenon known as “the tail wagging the dog” states that if such an ideology grabs hold of America many politicians will – against their better judgment – adopt said ideology in order that they be voted into office. The average voter holds onto sentiments divorced from the productive attributes of healthy society, while the politician embraces the same political ethos for personal gain.  The people think they’ve earned such benefits, while politicians enjoy the wide support they receive for supporting them.   Thus, the welfare-entitlement ideology is especially damaging because it attacks America from both ends of the social scale.  The result is often the demise of the middle, and most productive, segment of any three-class structure.

Where this will lead America is of course the core question that lies at the heart of the welfare debate.  Laying emotional attachments to notions of entitlements aside, the debate should focus on the financial implications to the health of America.  The insolvency of our federal government cannot be ignored and, coupled with the notion of dependence, highlights a further complication as to how those dependent upon government handouts will survive once the government (by fiscal necessity) withdraws its hand?  This is a loaded question, for most will be destitute absent the necessary skills to survive.

So the moral and practical implication of the welfare-entitlement ideology is two-fold as well.  Just as government spending crowds out the private sector, reliance on government crowds out self-reliance.  Benjamin Franklin knew this fact well.

“I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I traveled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.” 

Necessity is the mother of invention, as the saying goes, but our current ideology completely negates necessity.  The consequences are severe.  Under the welfare-entitlement ideology, America becomes not a nation of promise and prosperity, but one where government controls both its economic vitality and the very sustenance of its people.

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About Jeremiah Dow
I have a B.S. in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics with a minor in Economics. I finished school in 2010 and am currently working on independent research in various areas including political and economic philosophy, government, and history. I am also currently looking for work in research, particularly the social sciences dealing with public policy work. I aspire to a top-level graduate institution, but would first prefer some professional research experience. Some of my primary influences are Ayn Rand, Noam Chomsky, and Howard Zinn among others.

4 Responses to Why America Needs to Kill Its Entitlement Ideology

  1. In 80 years, government entitlement programs have produced a growing near – majority of emotionally crippled dependents. We must retrace our steps. Get away from the cities. Grow our own food. Become independent from the distribution system.


    • Jeremiah Dow says:

      I agree. The sense of entitlement has become so overwhelming as to almost entirely supersede any sense of personal responsibility for one’s own livelihood. Youth, and some older people, simply find the idea of earning their own living entirely foreign.
      Your comment about growing our own food reminded me of an author you may or may not know, Wendell Berry. He has much to say about this topic and its relation to self-sustenance. Check out two of his books: The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture and Home Economics. I think you will find them useful. Thanks for reading.


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  3. Justin says:

    An extraordinary piece of writing: I think you have summed up a fundamental issue very concisely indeed. Over here in the UK, David Cameron spoke of our society “knowing all of its rights but none of its responsibilities”. In accompaniment to your points, what I find particularly disheartening is the level of ambition that is bestowed upon the welfare class – a culture that does not encourage but rather enforces a life of leisure and luxury regardless of means.

    Therefore, despite an absence of sufficient income, a family will feel alienated without a 56” plasma TV and the latest fashion clothing. There is no longer any pride in austerity and the determination to better ones estate, but instead there is simply a drive to own the latest ‘must have’ possessions by fair means or otherwise. I lament when I hear teenagers who have no dream beyond winning a talent show with no ambitions further than being able to have a high life without consequence.

    But before I break into ranting, let me be as concise as you have been. We have a benefit-dependent class who not only lack the desire and incentive to ascend to a better standard of living, but also have a skewed view of what that better standard of living really is. Our societies will continue to become more septic until people realise that luxury is a reward that follows attainment and not a human right; and our leisure industries stop peddling this lifestyle as a “must have”.

    I am reminded of Caravaggio’s twin paintings of young Bacchus and sick Bacchus with young Bacchus revelling in his newly-acquired fine food and wine. And I look at sick Bacchus – made ill by a diet of nothing but food, wine and leisure. I do not see a parallel in any person, but in our peoples as a whole.


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