As young people head home for the holidays, they’re bracing for unsolicited advice and stories from their elders about how life used to require hard work and how young generations have an entitlement mentality.
It’s time my generation listens up, though ironically it was our grandparents’ generation that generated that sense of entitlement.
I grew up in a lower-middle-class family in a wealthy suburb of Detroit, Michigan (yes, they exist). Money became a major concern after my parents split when I was in second grade. My mother and I moved into a cramped, one-floor house in a low-income area, where she worked extremely hard so I could enjoy our wonderful public school system.
My mother was tough on me starting at an early age. I had to work hard for the simple things in life — clothes, treats, toys, etc. When I was too young to get a job, I did chores around the house to earn a $5 weekly salary. This empowered me to save money to buy toys and do fun activities with friends. However, this was not how most families in my city operated. My acquaintances enjoyed much more luxurious lifestyles than I did, and they didn’t have to work a single minute for it. This didn’t sit well with me.
It hit me much harder in high school. Most of the cars in my high school’s student parking lot were worth over $50,000 — more than any car in the teachers’ lot was worth. What is even more pathetic is that while mommy and daddy were writing the checks to pay for these vehicles, their children were doing drugs.
America has a culture problem, and I think the cause of that problem is Big Government. Entitlement programs have taken away the sense of personal responsibility that Americans used to have. Now, Americans don’t worry about the future because they think that the government has their backs. Americans have lost the ability to govern themselves.
It’s difficult to teach the masses how to govern themselves when they have grown up in a society that fosters a sense of entitlement. It’s even more difficult to teach self-government when Big Government continues to turn Americans against one another: the poor and the middle class against the big, bad rich folks.
Class warfare is contrary to our nation’s founding principles. America was founded as a nation of self-government, a nation that acknowledged that man has natural rights endowed by his Creator: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Founders formed a limited government to protect these rights.
Then came Franklin Delano Roosevelt. FDR promoted class warfare and his New Deal established entitlement programs, such as Social Security, that changed the face of America.
In his 1944 State of the Union address, FDR denounced self-government and individual freedom for contributing to poverty and said that limited government couldn’t solve the nation’s problems:
As our nation has grown in size and stature, however — as our industrial economy expanded — these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
FDR’s rhetoric and policies planted the entitlement seed that has been growing ever since. FDR threw the American Dream to the concrete and shattered it to pieces. Sadly, only fragments of it remain today.
America has become a nanny-state. Entitlement programs now consume most of the federal budget and are growing at unsustainable rates. Currently, 3.3 taxpayers support every retiree. The ratio of taxpayers to retirees will continue to fall as the baby boomers retire. The government will have to raise taxes or increase the retirement age in order for younger generations to receive the level of benefits that today’s retirees are receiving.
Who will bear the costly burden of these entitlement programs? My generation and the generations that will follow.
Young Americans like me need to fight for the principles of the American Founding before we become just another page in history. It’s up to us to serve as way-showers for those who have lost sight of the beauty of self-government. We are the hope of America’s future, and it’s time we take on this responsibility.
Celia Bigelow is a senior at Hillsdale College.