Entitlement: What Does the Research Say?

Generally speaking, when you hear the word entitlement, it’s being used as a perjorative for “feeling entitled” to government handouts. It’s usually coming from the tea party sorts who are angry because poor people are “gaming the system” or “getting free handouts”.

There are times when it us used incorrectly, like when describing a program where participants pay into a program like Social Security and Medicare with a promise that when we age, we will have insurance and retirement income to live a decent life.

If you hear the rants from the Tea Party and our Libertarian friends, what you hear is public sector unions (unionized teachers and government workers) are choking budgets and causing a severe financial crush for local government entities across the country. Since revenues have declined, and public sector costs have stayed the same or increased due to insurance and health care costs, the fingers immediately point to the folks who now account for 80-90% of municipality budgets – “You are costing us too much money!”

As a percentage of total revenues, yes the percentage of cost to total revenue did increase, but as a relative number, no the costs stayed the same, but the problem is total revenues declined. Who was at fault for that?

That should be the focus, but it’s not. Thus, anti-union, anti-tax, anti-government chants emerge. We cannot afford you, therefore, you must cut expenses. Raising taxes on working people who are struggling within a local economy are not popular, but focusing on just expenses is only dealing with part of the equation. And, ignoring the revenue side of the equation has allowed groups like ALEC with the backing of the Koch brothers and corporate funders, to push their free market, anti-government agenda.

According to Joseph Stiglitz, one of the most influential American economists, “But one big part of the reason we have so much inequality is that the top 1 percent want it that way. The most obvious example involves tax policy. Lowering tax rates on capital gains, which is how the rich receive a large portion of their income, has given the wealthiest Americans close to a free ride.”

The 1% want the country to be gridlocked and the focus to be on austerity, because guess what? If the political powers, or OUR government, isn’t strong enough to make a collaborative effort to redistribute income more equally, then the 1% have nothing to fear. It perpetuates their sense of entitlement by allowing them to keep what they want the most – their money.

We’ll stop there with the economic side of this discussion and return to the interesting behavioral aspects of this sense of being owed something – who does feel more entitled?

There have been new studies into altruism and how beneficial it is to your happiness and health versus the Ayn Rand philosophy, well embraced by Paul Ryan and the Tea Party Republicans which goes like this, “If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.”

That concept sounds more like a DSM symptom for narcissism. No wonder Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged is the bible of the conservative movement which recently eliminated food stamps from the Farm Bill and uses “austerity” as a reason to cut into every social safety net program this country has established while leaving “beneficial” programs like billions in corporate farming subsidies. Their hypocrisy knows no bounds.

From a behavior level during a series of startling studies, psychologists at the University of California at Berkeley have found that “upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals.” Ongoing research is trying to find out what it is about wealth — or lack of it — that makes people behave they way they do. Paul Solman reports as part of his Making Sen$e series. It’s definitely worth a few minutes of your time. It also might explain why austerity measures are focused toward the poor and not the rich since those in Washington represent the rich.

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Todd Smekens

Journalist, consultant, publisher, and servant-leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy motorcycling, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter and rescue hound. Spiritually-centered first and foremost. Lived in multiple states within the USA and frequent traveler to the mountains.
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