Entitlement Mentality in the United States

An Essay on Social Reform


Entitlement comes in many different forms.  Some people are actually entitled; those who have done something to earn their place in society; earn the money that they make, or otherwise earn an award.  There are also others who choose to be entitled to other people’s money, awards, or fame.  This second group has grown up in a society that has told them that everyone wins and that, no matter what, they should have the best of everything.  This second group of people would be better served if they were informed that gains are not a birthright--they are not deserving of what others earn.  They should be educated in how they can earn their own way in society instead of believing that others who actually work and make money are greedy or selfish because they believe that they deserve to keep that which they earn.  To have any effective social change, the change should not benefit one group at the expense of another.

Entitlement Mentality in the United States
Social responsibility is important in many facets of any society.  There are those who feel that they should be responsible for each other, those who believe that their family comes first, and those who believe that their personal needs are more important than those of others.  In each of these situations social change can be beneficial or detrimental, depending on outcomes.  The government has become a large depository for entitlements for many citizens in the United States.  With each passing year and each political speech, the entitlement generation is becoming stronger and more politically empowered.  When the President of the United States indicates that the rich need to pay their “fair share”, movements become more verbose in their distaste for those who have found success in their own hard work (Obama, 2012).  It has not even been a hundred years since the inception of the word entitlements into the government’s vocabulary (Moeller, Crocker, & Bushman, 2009).  Moeller, et al. (2009) states that it was not until 1942, when they defined the term entitlement as benefits received for which no current service is performed.  Simply put, the government is giving citizens something for nothing (Moeller, et al., 2009).
History of Entitlements in the United States
The Birth of Entitlements
Funding entitlements.  There are many programs that socially-minded politicians began considering during the 20th century.  Medicare, Welfare, Housing and Urban Development, Social Security, and other such programs became the law of the land—from federal income tax beginning in 1913 to the present day’s Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare”.  Although some of the initial programs were specifically intended for particular populations, most of whom self-funded as a savings account, their purpose has grown and been borrowed upon to pay for additional services.  Most programs are funded by the federal income tax program or other taxation methods.  Currently, federal income taxes are used to fund entitlement programs like the Housing Voucher Program, and Medicaid (Jost, 2012; Olsen, & Tebbs, 2011).
Federal Income tax
There have been weakened moments in United States society.  The World Wars, the great depression, oil shortages, and economic downturns have all caused government program creation; compelling American citizens to pay taxes.  Before 1913, there was no federal income tax (Morgan, & Prasad, 2009).  The reported purpose for the income tax was that it is to be temporarily collected for use by the federal government, instead of the states that the taxpayer resides, for the purpose of funding specific programs within the federal government (Morgan, & Prasad, 2009). 
Social Security
Social Security was created in 1935 to ‘provide for the general welfare’ of the elderly of the United States (Coronado, Fullerton, & Glass, 2011).  Since its inception, however, it has expanded to include payments to some who have not paid into the system.  Child and spousal survivors of deceased payees, as well as those who report and can prove physical handicap that keeps them from working also collect from this fund.  In 1939, an amendment was included in the act indicating that Social Security funds were to be secured for use by retired people (Coronado, et al., 2011).  During the L.B. Johnson presidency, the virtual lockbox that Social Security was put in was opened and the funds used for other programs in addition to retirement funding survivors (Coronado, et al., 2011).  Physically limited individuals and survivors were given the virtual key to the funds.  Johnson called this change a unified budget (Coronado, et al., 2011; Rogne, Estes, Grossman, Hollister, & Solway, 2009).  Thus the next step toward free money for those who do not wish to earn it began.  As early as the 1860’s, there was debate over this funding option; the choosing of payees being determined by what they can pay rather than what services they are consuming (McMahon, 2009).
In 1965 Medicare became law, creating another layer of taxes for citizens to pay into the federal government in promise of health care provisions once these citizens reached retirement age (Coronado, et al., 2011).  After Medicare became law under the pen stroke of President Johnson, the health care security of the elderly citizens of the United States seemed secure.  Once these taxpayers began paying into the system they felt that their hard earned money would be available to help care for them when they were no longer able to care for themselves.  Unfortunately this program, much like other government programs, has become more of a burden for taxpayers than it has been a benefit for their future.  The federal government assured provisions to help the indigent and poor under the same 1965 law that created Medicare for those who do not pay into the system but need help (Coronado, et al., 2011).

The Problem

Delivered Perceptions
What children hear.  From politicians to poor parenting, children are given misperceptions of their responsibility and the responsibility of others.  They hear politicians tell them that they are entitled to gifts from the government, that the rich are greedy and selfish, and that the government will take care of them.  They are not, however, taught that they are ultimately responsible for their own choices and fate.
Since the great World Wars, more forward-thinking, social minded individuals have been voted in to legislature and the executive branch of the federal government.  The country experienced great personal strife during the “great depression”.  Presidents, like Franklin Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover worked hard to include social programs that would assist those who found that they were not able to find a job, food, housing, or other basic human needs. 
Social Security, Medicare, HUD and “a chicken in every pot” were promises made to the people of the United States in order to gain entry into illustrious and profitable federal government offices (Congleton, & Zhang, 2009).  While politicians and other public figures told voters what they would give them, these same voters were being educated that their main source of sustenance should come from these politicians, or at least from the government as a whole.  There seems to be little education provided to the citizens on where the money is going to come from.
The war on the rich
There is a rift in today’s society between the affluent and upper middle class, and those who are less fortunate economically.  The “war against poverty” that was such a big deal a few short decades ago has become the war on the 1%--those who are fortunate enough to be economically viable during the times of recession (Clayson, 2010; Crotty, 2011).  The resilient few who have found a way to capitalize even when the economy is turning downward have become public enemy number one.
The dissemination of an ideology for paying your fair share seems to be coming from public officials who wish to stay in office, or become legislative representatives for office.  Promising hand-out entitlements to the masses is the new trend and it does not seem to be going backward.  As we have seen with federal income tax, Social Security, Welfare, and Medicare/Medicaid, once a government program takes hold, it becomes mainstream and the standard operating procedure.  These programs escalate rather than deteriorate with time.  Crotty (2011) contends that this “New Deal” approach is the best solution to the entitlement program viability, rather than creating a self-sufficient population.  This author does not agree with the contention that the affluent are naturally responsible for their less profitable neighbors.
Dependence on government
Dependency on government entitlements is not working in other countries.  The problems in Greece, Spain, and the United Kingdom are all representative of the problems that are likely to occur in the United States if socialist policies become the norm.  Margaret Thatcher said it well when she said:  “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” (Pejovich, 2010).  Crotty (2011) believes that there is a better chance of an economically viable outcome for the United States if they do produce a more European model of socialist care of citizens through unearned entitlements; this author disagrees.
Personal responsibility.  Children are not given the opportunity to work for those things that they want.  Everyone gets a prize, ribbon, or trophy in order to keep them from low self-esteem.  They are given a good grade just to make sure that their parents do not get angry, and even grades are removed from report cards to show better academic progress than is actually occurring.  Children do not see the value of personal responsibility when their parents and other adults are telling them that they can get what they want if they cry.
Social Theory

Conflict Theory – Dialectical Models of Social Change
Unfortunate to the viability of a country, conflict is likely to occur during economic or political strife.  When individuals become accustomed to those things that have always been tradition may overpower common sense.  In addressing conflict theory in order to define the problem at hand, once someone finds a strain against the status quo, they may try to push back against the changes that are occurring that they do not find tasteful. 
In the case of entitlement programs several organizations have been created in the past half decade to combat the changes that each group wishes to see come to fruition.  The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements are seemingly polar opposites on the spectrum of government responsibility in the lives of the citizens of the United States.  The Tea Party contends that the government has too much control over every moment of a citizen’s life, from what they eat to where their money is spent, and the Occupy Wall Street organization believes that the government should take more from the richer citizens and give it to the less economically advantaged through more taxation and regulation.  These conflicting organizations are backed up by political support: the Tea Party culminating in a direct neo-political party of conservative Republicans, and the Occupy Wall Street movement being supported by celebrities and liberal Democrats.
The dyadic conflicts that are occurring based upon the very different views of the economic responsibilities of the United States government seem to be lying slightly dormant but the more’ of each concept is a sleeping giant in this author’s opinion, just waiting for the next opportunity to emerge.  Madden & Vradis (2012) discuss the behavior of citizens to collect and protest those things they disagree with; trying to affect social change and political change through protesting rather than the otherwise utilized functions of general elections.  Instead of voting for representatives who agree with them, they attempt to change the minds of those already in office, continuing to vote in the same faces that have not changed their past agendas.
Solving the ‘Entitlement Crisis’
Biggs (2010) calls the entitlement crisis an apocalypse.  He states, and this author agrees, that the entitlements that were once funded by more taxes collected from more citizens is now being limited by the lower number of individuals employed and being taxed.  The current method of collecting taxes would need to be completely “crippling” (Biggs, 2010, p. 38) in order to maintain them at their current rate.
People are living longer, collecting more Social Security and Medicare (Tanne, 2011).  Although they may be living longer, their quality of life may not be better.  Tanne, (2011) and others contend that elderly are living less functional lives because of diabetes and other physically debilitating problems like arthritis and deteriorating hearing and vision (Mosher, 2011).
Although Mosher (2011) finds the increase in population to be an asset, this author considers the influx of so many additional people, and longer life spans to be an economic problem if those new citizens are not introduced into the economic improvement of a country.  The new generations, those from 1960 forward, have become comfortable with the entitlement status-quo in an escalated manner.  The opportunity to help this problem comes most with education.
Secondary education
Students in secondary school should be given proper economic education beyond basic general business.  During either a curriculum based program that includes actual education involving taxes, government distribution of those taxes and the imbalance between income and expenditure, high school students may begin to understand how the economy is fueled economically and that they have a responsibility in the future to help keep the economic future moving forward.  Students should be taught that nothing is free, even if they are not actually paying for it themselves.  They should learn about entitlements and how they are funded.  Waitzer and Paul (2011) say that if everyone does their part then the entire community will win.
In addition to economics class curriculum, civics or government classes should also include information on the laws that affect the citizens of a country.  The lessons plan should include real-time education on both taxable income such as who is paying taxes, in percentages on charts for proper visual representation and understanding, as well as inclusion of future projections based upon current income taxes collected and future expenditures.
Primary education
Younger students can receive practical education through social studies programs which give younger children the opportunity to actively be involved in the process of funding different programs within a classroom setting.  For example, students could be voted into office, programs could be introduced and the voted officials would have to find methods of collecting money to pay for these programs.  As each person in the class would be given a position, whether it is political, business, or citizen, the students would begin to see where there are flaws in their system.  They would also be given finite amount of money to work with and realistic ideas of the costs of programs that they create.
Education through technology
The media is a strong influence in the behaviors of youth in the 21st Century.  This asset can become a detriment if it is not utilized properly.  Giving social media a voice may be a method of involving children in the appropriate economic formation for the future viability of the United States.  Groups can be formed on social media, public service announcements can be written and introduced through television by youthful or popular celebrities, and games can be created to help children to begin to see how the economy works, that nothing is free, and that everyone is responsible for their own future.

Personal responsibility
Teaching personal responsibility begins at home, at a very young age.  Parenting pamphlets and early education may help young parents to learn that they can say ‘no’ to their children, and how to help their young that they should earn that which they want.  Children should learn to take responsibility for their actions.  They should be taught that not everyone wins and life is not fair.  When children begin to see that it will take more than sadness to get the things they want: that they are required to do something to earn reward or payment, they may start working in order to obtain their goals (Waitzer, & Paul, 2011). 
Sternberg (2009) wishes to teach ethical behavior to his students in college, yet found that there were rifts in the theoretical and the practical application of being ethical behaviorally.  This author agrees with Sternberg; that individuals may see the value of ethical behavior but they do not see the value in their own personal lives.  This will likely have to be taught at an early age by elementary teachers and parents even before school age.
Government reform
The very body that created the entitlements in the United States has the power to remove them and allow citizens to use their own money in their own way without being forced to pay for those who choose not to.  Responsibility with the income that the federal government collects from citizens is the first step toward causing those who feel entitled because they were born to reevaluate their perceptions.  Responsibility, also, in how politicians communicate their personal perceptions to the population at large is important as well.  The top one per cent of wage earners, in 2009, paid in 37% of all income taxes paid in (McCulloch, 2012).  Adding in the next four per cent, the combined tax payments for that five per cent is 59% of all income taxes paid in (McCulloch).  The lowest 50% of wage earners, in 2009, paid about 2% of all taxes (McCulloch).  With these numbers, it is clear that the presumed rich are definitely paying their fair share of taxes, yet the political administration and the media are irresponsibly creating a rift between those who work and pay in taxes and those who believe they should get funds from those who work.


Psychology’s Role in Revising Entitlement Beliefs
Kohlberg introduced the idea of different developmental stages of moral development in lines with other forms of behavioral and psychological development (Sternberg, 2009).  There is still disconnect between actual education on the premise of ethics and expectations that do not seem to transition to practical application (Sternberg).  Both theological and academic education in behavior that would benefit mankind works in the classroom but does not seem to be transferred into general behavior or beliefs of the student (Sternberg).
In regards to entitlement, psychologists should work with elementary and secondary educators in developing appropriate curriculum that not only introduces the benefits of such an education and specific scenarios for children to be taught, but also practical example applications for children to practice during their lessons.  For example, a five year old who learns, and practices, to say “excuse me” as he or she walks in front of others is likely to continue that behavior into their adult lives.
Psychologists should be involved in any social program curriculum and lesson planning for children in early years based upon studies into developmental behavior of children.  Applying Erickson and Kohlberg’s theories, along with other prominent developmental researchers can help produce appropriate and applicable education on how a child should perceive their surroundings.  Sternberg (2009) writes about how intelligence should be merged with wisdom when educating children.  It is not enough to teach them about what is right thing to do; they must also understand that they should also apply those behaviors.
Critique and Considerations
Individualism and culture
Everyone is unique.  No two cultures have the exact same ideas of what the right thing to do is.  In these situations there are rifts that should be bridged in administration.  As I suggest that elementary and secondary education should be the cornerstone of changing the ideas of future generations, there are still differences of opinion between those academic administrators and educators in different regions of the United States. 
In addition, depending on the demographic being taught curriculum should be modifiable and translated into the different lifestyles of the students.  For example, the behaviors of a school population that is dominantly African-American is not going to be the same as the behaviors in a school that is dominantly Latino or Caucasian.  The education must meet the needs and vocabulary of the students who are being taught in the same way that bully and illegal narcotics information is changed to suit the demographics.
Political opposition to academic change
Our own current political arena has shown that there is disconnect between teachers and school districts.  Some work for the future success of their students while others are seemingly more concentrated on their own personal gain—monetarily, for today and for their personal future success.  Once teachers and administrators begin teaching their students indirectly through their own personal sense of entitlements, students are given a mixed message.  If a child is told they should work for what they want and then they see those same educators breaking the rules and protesting for more money without working for it, human nature would dictate the child would be more likely to follow the applied education from their teachers’ protests rather than the words in the classroom (Koshy, & Pascal, 2011). 
Economic considerations
The proposal is to integrate new curriculum.  Each method of involving academics and education will likely come with some cost to the population.  However, the initial expenses of increasing curriculum to include the new requirements would be offset as the generations of entitlement recipients would be reduced and more people would be joining the workforce to become taxpayers.  The cost of such curriculum can also be reduced through use of computer based training (CBT) modules which could be delivered through secure internet access.  Most school districts have computer labs and an ancillary programs that introduce even the youngest children to academics and training through computer based venues.
Positive and Negatives of Proposal
Positive outcomes
Positive future outcomes involving the suggested educational curriculum would be that future generations would not be so inclined to desire entitlements.  More of the population would have a sense of personal responsibility and work to gain their own success.  This would give the government relief in the reduction of unearned entitlement payments due to unemployment or uninsured with poor health.  As individuals begin to see the value of their own contribution to their community and country at large, there will be fewer who will expect something that they did not earn.  As Waitzer and Paul (2011) indicate, when more contribute, fewer have to contribute more, and everyone wins.
Negative outcomes
The social theory:  Conflict Theory, is likely going to apply.  There are many generations alive, since the early 1960’s who are comfortable with the way things are.  They have always lived in an entitlement-rich country and may not wish to allow their children to learn how to be a part of a potential solution.  After decades of giving children the idea that everybody wins and the rich should pay their “fair share” (Obama, 2012), it may be difficult to convince these adults that reform is needed for the future viability of the United States economy.  While they have a sense that someone is paying into the system for them to have their entitlement funds, housing allowances, and medical benefits; because they are invisible to the recipients they may not consider repercussions of continuing the same path.

More liberalized views indicate that the child should be more the center of their own education and lives and parents are to be considered caregivers, and not nurturers of the children (Vernon, 2012).  With professionals in academics like Dr. Vernon (2012) attempting to change the views of child rearing from that of a parent-centered model to one where the child is the center of his or her own liberalized choices, then there will be little academic change to help the child to learn appropriate social skills like working with others, rather than individual gain with little work.
When children are involved in any process it is of the utmost importance that their wellbeing be considered first, and foremost.  Any academic or educational curriculum or lesson planning should be suggested with complete transparency.  Administrators, government entities, and parents should all be included during the planning stages to ensure that their questions and concerns are all met.
Another ethical consideration involving children would be the conflicts and rifts that may occur when change is suggested.  As parents are of the generations of entitlement they may not believe that there are any other options available and complaints and protests might culminate from any poorly presented suggestions to change that which they have become comfortable with.
Laws and ethical standards of the psychological and academic communities will need to be conformed to at all levels of the curriculum-based education process.  Each change and suggestion should be discussed with these laws and ethics standards in mind.  Rules are put in place for the protection of the unaware, so the individuals who are aware should be sure to follow them completely to ensure no harm comes from their processes or suggestions.
Continued on Page 2

More By  :  Prof. Kathryn Perez

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Comments on this Blog

Comment To John Royce: I agree that bail-outs should have been included, but my current paper was on the personal responsibility not corporate greed aspect. It will be an inclusion when I begin my massive dissertation project in a year or so. Thank you very much for the inclusion. It is valuable input, and will strengthen my theory.

13-Dec-2012 11:13 AM

Comment (From the Author) I have been informed, by my brother who lives in Spain, that the mentality of which I mention is not in fact occurring in Spain (as I allude to in my article). I beg to differ, as it is the very nature of taking that which is not yours and mismanaging it, offering and promising it to the masses and then those masses continuing to expect it when it is gone that is the premise of my Entitlement Mentality Theory. I will be continuing to study this issue as it is the topic of my PhD Dissertation. The reasons do not change the fact that few give, more take, and the balance is not working in the favor of either group. Professor Perez

Kathryn Perez
13-Dec-2012 10:54 AM

Comment I would have thought you meant the endless $40Billion+ monthly 'bailout' of Wall Street that continues today through Fed policy. Comment on LinkedIn's Thinker's & Strategists Group]

John Royce
12-Dec-2012 22:28 PM

Comment Though brief, a lot of ground is at least touched on in her article. The author is a conservative, as am I, so my perspectives largely mirror hers. The subject of the article is a massive problem screaming for the application of practical solutions, though solutions become increasingly difficult to implement due to the political power of those who concur with and promote the welfare state, as evidenced in our election last month. Sustaining the current trajectory will ultimately prove impossible. It's simple mathematics. Our Founding Fathers, if raised from the dead, would probably all die of a heart attack all over again upon finding out how we have squandered the incredible gift they fought and died to bequeath to us. [Comment on LinkedIn's Thinker's & Strategists Group]

Paul Brown
12-Dec-2012 22:25 PM

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