When I think of a safety net, I think of the kind you might find underneath a tightrope at the circus; it’s there as a precaution. If someone were to fall, it would catch them and save them from harm. As the net moved downward from the weight of the person who had fallen, it would then elastically bounce back and lift said fallen person back up so that they could try again.
Today’s safety nets tend to resemble a fishing net where you get caught but never get back out or, in some cases, they become a hammock where it’s so comfortable that you end up hanging out and resting there, instead of receiving the lift of the circus net.
This has led to - or perhaps is symptomatic of or has been created by - an imbalance in so-called obligation between those who are on the giving end of the safety net and those who are benefitting from socially-oriented legislation. Yes, we have obligation inequality.
There is certainly a segment of the population, those with legitimate, serious disabilities, who truly need extended assistance, and I think that few would argue about helping these people. But that’s a miniscule portion of the population.
[sharequote align="center"]Obligation inequality becomes entitlement. [/sharequote]
In fact, my brother-in-law, who was born with birth defects, including a palsy that renders one arm basically unusable and is significantly disabled, still has found a way to ride a bike to work and take on a various jobs throughout his life.
However, there are many others that should really only need temporary assistance - the safety net for when they are down on their luck. But that’s not happening.
We have a record number of Americans receiving food stamps, also known as “nutritional assistance.” We have more than double the percentage of the population on Social Security Disability Insurance than we did 40 years ago, despite safer working conditions and jobs.
Despite the increasing percentage of the population becoming dependent on governmental assistance, there is also increasing conversation about how more of some portion of the population’s money should be spent as some sort of obligation to “help” others.
Tom Camarello with Progressive Democrats of America and members from several other organizations hold a rally in front of Rep. Henry Waxman's office on June 17, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. Credit: Getty Images
I can’t help but think of C.S. Lewis’s quote on giving:
“The proper aim of giving is to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift.”
But our legislation and government assistance structure, which aims to treat symptoms without curing the underlying ailment, is doing just the opposite. Whatever good intentions may underlie it, it is slowly destroying our society, with lower workforce participation, less independence and a shift to an entitled mentality.
Americans are very generous and choose to help others through a variety of means. But, the question becomes, if some people have a mandated obligation to help others, what mandated obligation is being asked of those that receive the help so that they can no longer need it?
Our government spends more on health care, which has increased substantially under Obamacare, than any other category of spending. As a nation, we subsidize those who can’t afford it (without, of course, looking at the bigger issue of health care costs).
However, what obligations do those receiving health care subsidies have to take preventative measures to be healthy, such as exercising regularly or not smoking? If someone else is obligated to provide you care, what obligation do you have to do the known things to keep yourself healthy?
The answer is none.
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We have more than 46 million people on supplemental food assistance - the new fancy name for food stamps, because we don’t want to offend those who are asking for help.
However, what is the obligation for that? Donating time at a food kitchen? No? Heck, you don’t even have an obligation to use it for nutritious output. You can use it for anything from chips to sugary beverages without any consequence.
And while the “guidelines” say that you can’t use the money for certain items, since money is loaded onto an EBT card, there is no enforcement of that, which has led this money, according to a wide variety of reports, to be used from everything from cigarettes to strip clubs.
Government also wants to obligate businesses to pay no less than a certain wage to any employee, just for showing up. What obligations should that employee have? You may say "enough to keep his job," but despite tightness in the labor markets, for many, it’s difficult to find qualified employees and so employers will take anyone who shows up.
A noted restaurateur told me that a colleague of his recently had a prospective employee show up for a job interview barefoot. Seriously, the guy had no shoes on, by choice. The restaurant owner hired him anyways, because he was that desperate to find someone to work for him.
Then, once someone is hired, all of the touchy-feely discrimination laws make it difficult to let someone go - even if they are underperforming - without running the prospect of a lawsuit.
Photo Credit: AP
So, we care about ensuring that someone earns a living wage, but what obligations do they have to maintain skills, do outstanding work and have a good attitude?
The list goes on and on, from Social Security Disability Insurance to housing assistance, we have created forced obligations from some people to other people who have few, if any, obligations in return.
Obligation inequality becomes entitlement. We are creating a culture that believes “I deserve this because I am.”
Why not allow help to be there once you have left no stone unturned?
We have many people who come to the United States from all over the world to escape bad conditions and find a better life. And they do. So, why are those who are already living here not able to do the same?
If you are a citizen of the U.S., you are privileged with opportunity. But our entitlement culture and government is creating la arge percentage of the population who doesn’t feel any obligation to help themselves.
That, in and of itself, is un-American.
Carol Roth is a contributor for CNBC, bestselling author of The Entrepreneur Equation, recovering investment banker and a small business advocate. She also has an action figure made in her likeness. Twitter: @CarolJSRoth
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