March 22, 2015

413 words 2 mins read

You Are Entitled to Nothing

I know “House of Cards” character Frank Underwood is fictitious, malicious, and evil.

But even an evil fictitious character can hit the nail on its head occasionally.

We might not like his prescription, but he diagnoses America’s chief problem more concretely, more accurately, and more honestly than any American politician ever has. Ever.

We’ve been crippled by Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, by welfare, by entitlements. And that is the root of the problem: entitlements. Let me be clear. You are entitled to nothing. You are entitled to nothing. America was built on the spirit of industry. You build your future. It isn’t handed to you. And the problem with Washington is that we haven’t given you the tools to build it. The only way for us to serve you is to give you the means to serve yourselves.

Nine sentences that summarize the entire Tea Party movement. You are entitled to nothing. Too-big-to-fail companies are entitled to nothing. Nature provides us with an abundance of what we need to live: food, air, water, work, and friends. We have the capacity to build shelters, preserve food, care for the less able, learn, and tell stories so others benefit from our experience.

“Entitlements” merely alleviate our guilt over failing to live our lives to the fullest, which includes helping those in need and providing for ourselves. (On this point, I am no better than any and worse than many.)

We will never change the minds of Boomers and older generations about entitlements. The WWII generation invented the concept, at least as a pop culture truism. They won’t let go.

But Millennials might. So might Gen Xers, who never believed government promises to begin with.

The idea of entitlement destroys lives, especially the lives of the entitled. As Eric Greitens says in his new book, Resilience:

In the most prosperous moment in human history, tens of millions of people fail to flourish for lack of noble work to do, for lack of meaningful, hard, struggling engagement with the world.

Greitens, Eric (2015-03-10). Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life (Kindle Locations 364-366). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

If we don’t change the popular misconception that people are entitled to other people’s money, it won’t matter whom we elect to Congress or the White House.

“Entitlement” is a terrible word. Let’s exorcise it from our culture. Never miss the opportunity to remind your fellows, especially those you care most about, you are entitled to nothing.