Entitlements are two-thirds of the federal budget. Entitlement spending has grown 100-fold over the past 50 years. Half of all American households now rely on government handouts.

When we hear statistics like that, most of us shake our heads and mutter some sort of expletive. That’s because nobody thinks they’re the problem. Nobody ever wants to think they’re the problem.

But that’s not the truth.

The truth is, as long as we continue to think of the rising entitlement culture as someone else’s problem, someone else’s fault, we’ll never truly understand it and we’ll have zero chance of altering its dangerous course.

Our growing entitlement culture is far more pervasive than people realize. It’s also far more top-down than people realize. The entitlement mindset that’s infecting America starts with our leadership, and not just in Washington, either.

Nobody wants to give up their stuff. Not our congressional leaders with their pork projects and no term limits, not our corrupt and power-hungry regulators, not our ridiculously overcompensated big-company CEOs, not our union bosses, and not our overhyped and overpaid celebrities.

The same is true of everyone else. Why? Because, folks have this perception that everyone is getting rich but them. When they see leaders who aren’t held accountable making big bucks they don’t deserve, they become resentful, jealous, angry, and selfish. They want their piece of American Pie. And why shouldn’t they?

Here’s the truth about what’s fueling our entitlement state:

Out of control executive compensation. In a 1984 essay, Peter Drucker, the father of modern management, argued that executive pay was out of control and lucrative severance packages destroyed accountability. “This is morally and socially unforgivable,” he said, “and we will pay a heavy price for it.” It’s only gotten worse and there’s no end in sight.

Politicians getting rich on perks, speaking engagements, consulting, endorsements, investments, and book deals. Al Gore may not be the only politician to make a fortune off his political clout, but his ginormous carbon footprint makes him the poster child for hypocritical greed and gluttony. Or haven’t you noticed how rich politicians somehow become on government salaries?

Entitlement corruption. When people see others on the take, they get the sense that it’s OK to do the same thing. I actually know people here in California living in million dollar homes and getting government handouts. No kidding.

Pervasive partisan rhetoric and gridlock. When our leaders in Washington can’t get anything done except divide the nation and point fingers at each other, people become sort of numb to it. So they say to themselves, “If the politicians aren’t getting anything done, if they aren’t earning their pay, then why should I?”

Crony capitalism. When banks, regulators, lobbyists, the Treasury, the Fed, the credit rating agencies, and who knows who else all get caught with their pants down and American taxpayers have to bail them out, they get sort of fed up. Can you blame them?

Out of control government spending. What kind of example does our $18 trillion national debt set for American families? Why should Americans be fiscally responsible when our government isn’t? Why should they hold themselves accountable when politicians don’t?

High corporate tax rates pushing corporations to park profits offshore. I don’t fault our corporations for seeking tax havens in other countries. Our high corporate tax rates and loopholes are to blame. But what message does corporate inversions send to folks? This is how we incentivize the wrong kind of behavior.

Burden of illegal aliens on society and infrastructure. One of most demoralizing issues for those who jump through all the hoops to immigrate to this country legally is that those who break the law somehow end up with all sorts of handouts anyway.

Athletes and entertainers making ungodly amounts of money. The excesses of celebrities, reality TV stars, pop culture icons, and socialites adds to the jealousy factor and the “where’s my piece of the pie?” mentality. And it’s hard to believe how many of them still end up blowing it all and going bankrupt.

Our schools and our speech. There are no winners or losers anymore. Competition is bad. Everyone gets a trophy. Everyone gets an “A.” There are no individuals, no standouts. We wouldn’t want to offend anyone. Diversity, inclusion and political correctness trump everything (no pun intended). That takes all the incentives out of individual responsibility and meritocracy.

The truth is that America’s growing entitlement culture is coming from everywhere: from our leaders in the private and public sectors, from our schools, from our speech, from our popular culture, from what our notion of capitalism has become. It isn’t somebody else’s fault. It’s yours and mine. And only you and I can change it.

A version of this first appeared on foxbusiness.com

  • Frik

    It could have been worse – you could have been living in South Africa…

  • Steve Eckhardt

    Ever read “Democracy in America” by Alexis de Tocqueville? Well, neither have I, but here’s a great quote from it: “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” It’s an amazingly prescient quote from a 180 year old book. We’ve survived a bit longer than predicted, but the progressives are chipping away at our freedoms as fast as they can. BTW, if you’re interested in much more material in this vein, you might enjoy the Ludvig von Mises Institute’s newsletter.

    • Steve Tobak

      Fascinating. But I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet. Thanks for the tip!

  • Snake Plissken

    Compensation of executives, athletes and entertainers is driven by the market, negotiation and what the corporation/team perceives as value. It’s largely based on past performance, many times provided for much lower compensation. Athletes generate income for their owners and it was much more unfair before free agency and players unions. Entertainers who don’t generate income for studios etc. no longer command high compensation. Many CEOs make money for their shareholders and get rewarded accordingly. Many don’t. There are no guarantees in business. Companies are free to exclude severance packages from contracts, however they will have a tough time competing for top leadership talent. Spots teams are free to pay their athletes less and try to compete (like the Clippers used to). Studios are free to make B movies with less expensive or unknown talent, and many do. At least the CEOs, athletes and ntrtainers provide value to the people paying them, for the most part. Now, politicians are a completely different story…

  • I was with you until this point:
    “Athletes and entertainers making ungodly amounts of money. The excesses of celebrities, reality TV stars, pop culture icons, and socialites adds to the jealousy factor and the “where’s my piece of the pie?” mentality.”

    It isn’t the money that’s the problem. LeBron is making the league more than he’s paid. Ditto the Kardashians for the people who pay them, God help us. It’s the behavioral excesses – including the camera holders, BTW. Which is to say, the lack of standards.

    Which is to say, the cultures they’re from, the standards being set in the culture they go to, and the choices in the ecosystem that surrounds them. Who controls those things? Who should? How? What’s the underlying philosophy that makes this stuff OK, when it wasn’t before (hint: if all truth is relative…)?

    That’s a much, much bigger and more complicated problem set than the money. But the answers are disconcerting if we probe too deeply, so it’s easier to focus on the money. Even if it’s wrong.

    • Steve Tobak

      Nevertheless, it all leads to the jealousy factor. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. After all, I’m a free-market capitalist pig. But the effect it has on the culture is real, nevertheless.