Entitlements vs. Self Reliance
Childhood is a time when the only thing that most children have to do is to learn how to get dressed, keep clean, play nice, and keep up with their studies. It’s a time when children begin to learn how to be responsible. It’s a time when parents provide for all of their children’s needs so that they, the children, can have both the opportunity and the time necessary to grow up and become self-reliant.
As each of us grew in age and in responsibility, our parents ever so gradually withdrew their support and we began to depend more and more on ourselves. When we learned how to feed ourselves, they stopped feeding us. When we learned how to get ourselves dressed, they stopped dressing us. When we learned how to earn our own money, they stopped giving us an allowance. While it’s just one of many parental roles, our parents would clearly have failed if they had allowed us to grow up and not be able to take care of ourselves (i.e. be self-reliant).
Self-reliance is an important goal in all of our lives and, interestingly enough, it’s not just children who need to learn to become self-reliant, adults also need to continue to strive for self-reliance. Self-reliance is a lifelong goal and can be cut short anywhere along its path. For example, a child may be more interested in having fun than in learning how to be responsible. A parent may be afraid of losing the love of a child if they push them too quickly toward accepting responsibility. And, finally, an adult may decide that they no longer want to provide for themselves.
For many of us, there is a voice inside us that “suggests” that life would sure be a lot easier if someone else did all of our work. That voice gets a little louder each time we’re told that, if we don’t have something, there may be a way to get it for free. The louder that voice becomes, the harder it becomes to resist. When children listen to that voice, they run the risk of never learning how to be self-reliant. When adults listen to that voice, they run the risk of losing their self-reliance.
All of us know adults who, even though they are doing their best, still need some kind of help. Their needs have touched our hearts and the hearts of some in our government. With good intentions, we have instituted many programs like; Social Security to help the elderly in their retirement years, Unemployment Compensation to help those who are temporarily out of work, Food Stamps to help those who are judged to be below a poverty line, and other programs to help feed, clothe, and shelter children who, through no fault of their own, live in a fatherless family with little hope for a living income, just to name a few.
These programs are now part of our everyday life and many of us are making decisions with them in mind. For example, students worry less about the cost of their education. Those who are unemployed feel less pressure to find work. Women are less concerned about getting married because they know the government will feed, clothe, and house their children. Those who are still working don’t worry quite so much about their later, retirement, years.
All of these programs are intended to help people through difficult times, that is, give them time to catch their breaths. But, the very programs that we’re providing are making the problem worse. They are undermining the self-reliance of some of the very people they are intended to help. In effect, they are increasing the number of people who need help.
And now we now find ourselves in a difficult dilemma. Our problem is that the more help (entitlements) we provide, the more we undermine our self-reliance, and the more people we add to the list of the those who need help. Our programs to help the poor are becoming more and more expensive. We want to continue helping but we may not be able to afford it much longer unless we change the way we’re doing things.
There is an answer to our dilemma but it is almost as difficult as the dilemma itself because it requires that we personalize our entitlements. It requires that we bring the receiver of the gift closer to the giver of the gift. It requires that the gift come from the local community, not from an impersonal government.
Bringing the receiver closer to the giver helps the receiver better understand that their entitlement is a gift coming from an individual and not from a line on a clerk’s budget. That’s important because it promotes the understanding that entitlements are free will gifts and not something that is “owed” to the receiver. Additionally, the closer the receiver is to the giver, the harder it is for the receiver to look the giver in the eye and say that they have tried hard, when, in fact, they haven’t tried at all. This, by itself, builds a greater desire in the receiver to be more self-reliant.
A second and equally important benefit of personalizing the entitlement is an improvement in the efficiency of the gift. When the gift comes from the community, it’s more efficient because the giver (the community) is more aware of the needs of the receiver than an impersonal government could ever be. The community knows the local problems and likely, the individual themselves. Therefore, the community has a better understanding of what the receiver really needs and how long they need it, and as a result, is more efficient with the gifts.
In the analogy of a family, who’s better to decide what your child needs, you, your neighbor, or a clerk in a downtown office? Who is more likely to know when your child no longer needs help, you, your neighbor, or a clerk in a downtown office?