The Culture of Entitlement

So soon after Christmas I am hesitant to play the Grinch, but I have become increasingly disappointed by the growing sense of entitlement that our culture has created. It seems everyone thinks they should be permitted to have whatever they want whenever they want no matter what they actually contribute to society.  This is not the way our founding fathers ever envisioned what it means to be an American.

We can go back to the original Homestead Act for the first entitlements that were granted. Titles to land were granted to thousands of Americans willing to work the land. Back in those days working the land did not mean that you had tractors and trailers. You worked the land with your hands and had tools, with some mules if you were lucky, and you built your own home, your own fences and barn and everything else you might need to turn uncultivated land to crops or cattle-raising property. Basically your land grant entitled you to the opportunity to work sixteen hour days and create a legacy for your children and grandchildren.

Today the level of entitlement is out of control. I am not just talking about federal programs to help the poor.  A minimum level of food, housing, education, health care and freedom to create is a necessary entitlement for all members of society. What is concerning me is the level of entitlement our public servants feel they deserve.  Just a few days ago another case was discussed in our local San Diego newspaper of a former police officer who was requesting that her $200,000 plus annual retirement payment be considered in part disability payment and thus not subject to normal taxation.  She requested this because of disabilities she had developed while serving on the police force for thirty-plus years. In this case the police officer happens to be a woman. Because of the privacy act she does not want to have her specific disability revealed.

I do not doubt that this police officer was a fine public servant and that she has in fact sustained some kind of long term disability, though apparently this disability only became clear to her almost five years after taking early retirement. The issue for her is she wants to avoid paying full taxes on her entire $200,000 plus annual retirement, and if she can have some of this money re-categorized as disability payment, her taxes will go down significantly.

I may be out of date, but $200,000 a year in retirement pay for a police officer seems an overly generous sum of money. Even with full state and federal taxes the take home will be significantly over $100,000. Perhaps this officer wants to contribute towards the education of her grandchildren or use the money for other good purposes, but in my mind a true public servant would not  try to take advantage of laws designed to protect those with disabilities that  require them to stop working just to gain an extra twenty to thirty thousand dollars a year from  taxpayers whose dollars are already over committed to pensions and other entitlements that are  bankrupting our cities.

I worry much more about our young people and the burden of debt we have created for them than the honoring of overly generous pensions for not just police but firemen, sanitation workers, prison guards and even teachers. Not to mention the pensions allotted to those who serve in Congress. All of these public servants deserve our respect and our praise and a fair living wage and respectable retirement. But it seems we have gone too far when such public servants feel entitled to whatever monies they can justify to ensure not just a respectable but luxurious retirement.

The greatest joy in life comes not from our material possessions but in what we can do to help others. For those state and federal workers who found meaning in their jobs, may their true entitlement be the satisfaction they feel from having contributed to society and improving the lives of others. They are entitled to our full respect but not necessarily to all our money.


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