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Richard Larsen: Adjustment to the Entitlement Mentality

June 18th, 2012 by Halli

By Richard Larsen

When John F. Kennedy made the now seminal statement, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” a responsive chord was struck with Americans of all political persuasions. It rang true with us. For we have always been a nation of givers, helpers, producers, and doers. But the aphorism seems of less relevance now, as increasingly we’re a nation of takers; getting as much as we can personally from our neighbors who are producers, through government redistribution tactics, without regard to fiscal soundness or the inevitable ultimate consequences.

Whether it’s those on the growing poverty rolls voting for candidates who they think will give them more, or ideologically aligned groups of voters seeking aggrandizement and benefits beyond what the average American enjoys, the trend seems to be increasingly, “Ask not what you can do for your country, but ask what your country (or politician) can do for you.”

It’s certainly too soon to tell with certitude, but this could possibly be one component to the retention of Scott Walker as Wisconsin governor. Because it wasn’t an isolated case, as the cities of San Jose and San Diego had historic elections this week granting city leaders more flexibility in reducing presumed entitlements of their unionized employees.

Ben Franklin is attributed the quote, “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.” A certain class of politicians has preyed on income disparity, victimhood, and class envy as a means of eliciting support from those constituents on the premise that they are their champions, that the “victims” were entitled to more of what the producers in our society had, and that they, the politicians, would rectify the “unfairness.”

Public employee unions have perfected the mechanics of that process. They provide essential services that we all benefit from and need. Their union dues buy political influence by supporting and electing public officials of like mind. Yet those bought-and-paid-for public officials, when sitting in on contract negotiations, end up representing those who bought their position for them, rather than the taxpayer who funds it. Consequently, as was the case in Wisconsin, public employees were earning salaries and benefits up to 50% higher than similar private sector jobs, with little personal contribution to pension and health care benefits.

As the brilliant economist Thomas Sowell has illustrated, “A ‘safety net’ can easily become a hammock. ‘Social justice’ can easily become class warfare that polarizes a nation, while leading those at the bottom into the blind alley of resentments, no matter how many broad avenues of achievement may be available to them.” While the unions’ safety net differs markedly, the principle is the same. In some places, it has become a hammock.

Long gone, in places like Wisconsin, San Diego and San Jose, is the concept of being a civil servant. The levels of expectation and entitlement have lavished salaries and benefits on the sector that dwarf private industry. The votes this week serve, at least as a temporary reminder, that government employees work for us, the citizens and taxpayers, not the other way around. As long as we pay their salaries, fund their pensions, and pay their health care costs, they’re our employees.

The National Review said of the Wisconsin recall election, “Walker won because he represented the taxpayer, while his opponent represented the groups whose livelihoods depend on bilking the taxpayer. Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett served as less of an alternative than a vessel for Big Labor’s unmoored wrath. … And, most of all, Scott Walker saved his job by being the adult in the room.”

The tactics employed by those who adhere to the entitlement mentality are unremarkably the same, whether utilized by the Occupy Wall Street folks or the public service unions. The Wall Street Journal reminded us this week of what those in Wisconsin did. “They occupied the state capital for weeks. They harassed GOP lawmakers and their families, tried to recall state Senators and defeat a conservative Supreme Court judge, while Democrat lawmakers abdicated their legislative duty by fleeing the state.”

The politics of victimhood and self-interest preys upon the most fundamental of emotions. Regrettably when such is the preoccupation with the political process, other logical priorities, like feasibility and sustainability, are relegated to subordinated status. The future viability of a community, a state, and a nation, are thereby jeopardized, while “kicking the can” down the road to future generations to pay the costs.

The lessons for voters, elected officials, and public employees are many from this week’s historically significant elections. Let’s hope the country is now prepared to follow Wisconsin’s lead with a taxpayer renaissance, with sustainability and feasibility as top-tier priorities, supplanting self-interest and personal aggrandizement.

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Posted in Constitutional Issues, Guest Posts, Pocatello Issues, Presidential Politics | No Comments »

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