Class envy and entitlements: The story of the baker
I've never envied the rich or thought they owed me anything.
In the short list of unalienable rights, nowhere is it written that I have a claim to property of another. My moral code resists that idea, and the criminal code prohibits it.
Moreover, if those on the higher rungs of the economic ladder owe me something, it follows that those on the lower rungs have a similar claim against me. My enlightened self-interest resists that idea.
This whole entitlement mentality makes me uncomfortable. Coercive taking by the state and redistribution to favored political constituencies are inexorably replacing the voluntary good works of charities, churches, friends, and neighbors as the primary means of providing a safety net for the needy.
This change in methodology may appear to be a distinction without a difference, but the real-world effects on giver, recipient, and society as a whole are deeply disturbing.
To illustrate, a small bakery owner and I once belonged to the same loosely knit community group. We met weekly.
One day he arrived with a tray of pastries. I don't know if his intent was to relieve the tedium of the reading of the secretary's and treasurer's reports, but relieve the tedium they did.
The surprise treat morphed into a weekly affair. Attendance grew. Members arrived with coffee in hand and smiles on their faces. A sense of unity, purpose, and accomplishment filled the air.
Then, one week, he wasn't there. Members strode to the table only to look up in dismay when they discovered the cupboard bare.
Nevertheless, all agreed that his absence was likely due to a sudden emergency (the flu, perhaps) and that he would return the following week.
Well, the following week came and went, and the week after. Each week, grousing about "our" pastries grew, and concern about their purveyor diminished.
Interestingly, no one called to thank him for his generosity or to inquire about his well-being. No one thought to stop at a Dunkin Donuts to fill the void.
In short, I witnessed the birth of the entitlement mentality on a micro-economic scale.
It is that sense of entitlement, of demanding something for nothing that is spreading, virus-like, through our culture, infecting and affecting everyone and everything.
I recently overheard a retired steel worker complain that his retirement is insufficient to live on. Blaming "inflated corporate salaries and costs," he railed that "greed runs the wealthy. The more some people have, the more they desire."
Rather than pointing fingers, I suggested that he look in the mirror and ask himself how his greed had contributed to his economic downturn.
For three decades, he enjoyed high wages, job security, and generous benefits in a heavily unionized industry. During those halcyon days, how often did he buy another "toy" – snowmobile, second vacation – rather than setting something extra aside for a day he knew was coming? Did he expect the gravy train to never end?
Did he avail himself of tuition reimbursement to better himself and his earning capacity?
Moreover, did he counsel restraint at contract time, when his union leaders brought unreasonable demands to the negotiating table while turning a deaf ear to management's warning that lack of competitiveness in a world economy would force plant closings and drive jobs overseas?
When were unions satisfied with what they had?
Personal responsibility, enlightened self-interest, and caring for each other are not incompatible. To the contrary, they are indispensable to a prosperous, just, and peaceful people and nation.
It is only when, as now, the scales tilt in favor of individuals self-interestedly demanding rights without attendant responsibilities coupled with a government self-interestedly striving to satisfy those "rights" by means of income redistribution that tyranny, disintegration, and division begin.
On Nov. 8, voters can begin to restore the balance.