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Welcome To The Age Of Entitlement

Before I decided to leave the rat race earlier this year, I was the president of a small, national direct sales and marketing company. In May 2010, we decided to open a new operation in Miami and I spent six weeks setting it up. We had branch operations in other cities and had a fairly solid process for opening up a new one so I wasn’t expecting much challenge in opening up Miami. I was wrong.
We advertised for sales and management positions and received hundreds of applications. We did long-distance phone interviews to narrow the list of potential candidates and set up face-to-face interviews for when I arrived in Miami. The result was an unbelievable level of entitlement and self-absorption.

I had candidates ask me if we paid their cost to drive to work while others wanted to know how quickly they could go on paid vacation. Some rejected the offer of employment because they were receiving health and post-secondary benefits from the state and didn’t want to lose those unless we could or would cover the cost. Out of the dozen we hired, only five actually showed up for work and three of them disappeared without notice. Replacement hires came and went like dust blowing through town. Some wanted advances on their salaries while others kept taking days off to attend to personal business.

It clearly interfered with our ability to deliver for our client but they were very understanding and confided that they had the same problem with many of their full-time employees.  We finally gave up and closed the operation.

I’m not suggesting that Miami is a hotbed of lazy people or even that the situation is necessarily unique to South Florida but it is indicative of a much bigger and wider problem. We have built a society with an unwarranted sense of entitlement.

We see others becoming wealthy when we aren’t so it must be their fault and we want justice and wealth redistribution. Undoubtedly, some individuals and corporations have benefited from tax breaks and government largesse at tax payer expense and that needs redress but it doesn’t explain the mess we’re in nor is it the singular cause.

Tax concessions and exemptions are provided to all kinds of individuals and organizations from charities to home mortgages, from political parties to the cost of tuition. In Canada, 75% of the true cost of tuition is subsidized by the taxpayer and the 25% paid by the student has additional tax credits available to it.

Virtually every group, big or small, wants or expects some kind of government support or handout.  Environmental groups wanted governments to spend hundreds of billions on the Kyoto Accord which would have ruined economies even faster than we’re managing to do now. Renewable energy companies are lined up with their hands out for tax breaks and right behind them are corporate executives threatening to relocate their companies to tax-friendlier jurisdictions. 

Students want free university and college education and the friends of public broadcasting in both Canada and the U.S. have successfully lobbied to ensure a continuous flow of cash into the hands of public broadcasters. In Canada, the state-owned CBC receives roughly $1 billion annually while in the U.S., PBS stations received matching or 2 for 1 government funding for every dollar they raise on their own.

Anti-smoking advocates, women’s groups, gay pride parades, festivals, the arts, professional sports teams, corporations, banks, home owners, students, the unemployed, charities, political parties, the poor (to some extent only), special interest groups, NGO’s and a long list of others have all lobbied for and benefited from government largesse.

Black Friday exemplified the lost sense of values we have as a society. Almost $1 billion was spent on purchasing “things” and while I don’t resent anyone enjoying the fruits of their labour by purchasing what they want, many of those same people will cluck their tongues about poverty and wonder why the government isn’t doing more about it.

The riots and protest in Greece earlier in the year were not over injustice, they were sparked in outrage over the government’s announcement that it was going to crack down on income tax evasion, something that had become a Greek national sport. The riots in England earlier this year were sparked by students demanding tuition fee reductions. The list of expectations is unlimited and not bound by geo-political borders or economic groups.If some group has a cause, a business or even just an opinion, they have a sense of entitlement to some  kind of financial support from government.
But here’s the thing.

Government doesn’t earn any money. It’s income comes from tax payers and in Canada, the average tax payer now works until the end of June just to pay their tax burden. In other words, their taxes consume fully 50% of what they earn regardless of their tax rate. It’s almost the same in the United States. We work to pay for the entitlements first and even then, it isn’t enough. Governments borrow more to finance more in order to get re-elected and in the end, it all spirals downwards taking jobs, tolerance, and opportunity with it. Taxes aren’t a problem in and of themselves, they are symptomatic of something bigger.

What taxes? Income tax, consumption and sales taxes, gas tax, death duties, inheritance taxes, licenses for cars, boats and trailers. There are environmental taxes, property taxes, school taxes and taxes on energy. Unemployment insurance, health care taxes and user fees to make use of the public facilities our tax money originally built and pay to maintain and operate. It is an orgy of taxation that has even led the U.S. government to send out tax collection notices to citizens of other countries who while born in the United States have not lived, worked nor are citizens of that country. In other words, they become liable by accident of birth.

This unwarranted sense of entitlement now consumes so much of our tax money that the things it is supposed to pay for like infrastructure maintenance are increasingly underfunded. In Canada, healthcare and education consume almost 80% of every tax dollar leaving 20% to pay for everything else government does and to service the government debt.

In the end, though, it isn’t about taxes it’s about an attitude. Occupy protests corporate greed but doesn’t recognize the same motivation in the demand for free university tuition. Everyone with a sense of entitlement can rationalize and justify why their cause, their organization, their union or their corporation should received financial support. We have become a society that expects someone else to fund our group and for someone else, usually government, to do something about all the other issues our society faces.

Day after day, I see Occupy protesters decrying the poverty of the homeless even as some within their movement cause the squandering of millions of tax dollars as a result of their protest. I have asked some protesters what they intend to do about poverty but get no reply to the question. I watch corporations make huge donations to charity only to turn around and claim it as a tax deduction which means that in the end; you and I made that donation, not them. Across the country people attend charity events and galas paid for by the companies they work for only to have those same companies in turn declare it as a tax deduction. But in the end, someone always has to pay the bill. Truman said “the buck stops here” but he was wrong. The bill is presented to you and I and that is where the buck really stops.

Everybody talks about the poor and about unemployment and all of the other social problems we face but nobody wants to give up any of their tax advantage to correct or address those things. This past summer the Republicans and the Democrats couldn’t even agree on a combination of taxation and spending reductions to try and get the budget deficit under control. The democrats simply wanted to tax the rich and the Republicans simply refused to consider change to any of the tax benefits already being enjoyed by the privileged.

It’s an attitude that everybody must pay….except me and mine and the tragedy is that there really is enough wealth and opportunity in North America to make life better for everyone. There is no excuse for a child to go to bed hungry in our society and yet it happens. Is it the fault of the wealthy? Partly, but it is also the fault of all of us who put our own personal cause and self-interest ahead of everything and everyone else.

We live in an age where too many have an unwarranted sense of entitlement; the problem is that we can’t afford it any more. We can’t afford the selfish attitude it has created and we can’t afford the cost of that attitude anymore. Corporations defend capitalism but what happened in 2008 was corporate welfare. Entitlement is nothing more than welfare for the special interest and we have governments borrowing billions to pay for what too many consider their entitlement it becomes clear that we have lost our sense of values, our perspective and our ability to pay our own way.

We’ve been living on borrowed money and borrowed time for decades and the bill has come due.The rich didn’t ruin our economy. Every one of us with an unwarranted sense of entitlement contributed to that and all the protests, political rhetoric and accusations across the political spectrum are not going to change that simple fact. 

 © 2011 Maggie’s Bear
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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16123459288721211812 Bear

    Anonymous – We get the government we deserve and because we don’t think much beyond our own special interest, we train politicians to cater to that. We live with injustice because too often we employ the same unjust methods as those we oppose. Occupy is a prime example of that. You can’t overcome what you oppose by acting as selfishly and as illegally as those you protest.

    Unknown – Thank you for the kind comments. Greed is not the sole province of the elite. It runs across all levels of society. Everybody wants a piece of the pie and someone else to pay for it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13142102315428324056 Unknown

    Fantastic blog. Greed is a problem as well as the want for uniqueness—stardom. We definitely agree it is the people that give to charities in the end and not the corporations or the super rich due to taxation loopholes.

  • Anonymous

    Interresting. As you say “we” are the society. We elect persons who are supposed to put things right. But as “we” all belive in different “justice” I suppose we will always have to live with injustice too. I belive you did good in point out what you meant to anyone who read all the text.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16123459288721211812 Bear

    I think my post was less about trying to force people to help than it was about highlighting the fact that we all expect too much for ourselves and for someone else to do the helping. Maybe I’m not as good a writer as I try to be but what I am trying to convey is that we have made governments focus on giving us entitlements rather than on other things and people that need that focus. I don’t judge any individual for what they can or can’t do, including the wealthy.

  • Anonymous

    @Bear, you are right we should help, but we should not be forced to help.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16123459288721211812 Bear

    “Our priorities” refers to the collective we as a society. I don’t happen to subscribe to the theory that all who are unemployed are lazy just as I don’t subscribe to the theory that all who are successful are evil. But there is something out of whack with a society that can drop almost $1 billion on consumer goods in one day while there is so much poverty around us.

  • Anonymous

    “Our” priorities? I guess that’s why I would take it so personal. I prefer to work, others don’t. I still don’t see that as “our” fault. Sorry.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16123459288721211812 Bear

    We are all responsible. We live in a society with sufficient wealth that we shouldn’t need soup kitchens and homeless shelters. It’s our priorities that are out of whack. I find it interesting that you take it so personally.

  • Anonymous

    Why would you try and make “us” feel responsible for children going to bed hungry. You’re right in one aspect..there is no good reason for it. Just in this little city alone we have an out of the cold program and you can eat for free, we have soup kitchens, we have food banks, salvation army, churches and places in between where people can get free food. If the parent is too damn lazy to go pick it up I will NOT allow anyone to blame me for this happening where people don’t have to work one day if they don’t want to.