Entitlement and “The Gift of Work”


The “Varsity Blue” DOJ investigation into College Admission cheating and scamming by people and families of means is consistent with the narrative today that there are two separate classes of people. Those in the upper ruling classes who believe that they can play by a very different set of rules and those in the middle and lower classes who do not come from a position of advantage. We have come to believe that opportunities available to people in those two different groups are very different.

There is also a belief that unless you have a “hook” into the system there is little opportunity for upward mobility. The ideas of “meritocracy” and “egalitarianism” are believed to be no longer significant in the worlds of finance and government.

Politicians as desperate as Rush Limbaugh and AOC, Elizabeth Warren and Rand Paul speak to the inequities of our system when they use works like crony capitalism and monopolistic business practices—though in this regard the difference between a natural monopoly and a government-industrial fascist economic system are not defined.

I am a white man but I would like to argue that anyone living in our country is the recipient of privilege Nowhere in the history of the world has a civilization elevated itself irrespective of race or ethnicity at a faster rate than has the United States. The march of the black community from slavery (and slavery was our great national sin) through Jim Crow and finally the Civil Rights ACT and era has never been replicated anywhere else in the history of the world. The chains of grinding poverty have never been lifted from a people faster and more completely than what has happened in our country over the past 250 years. Life time mortality in 1776 was 35 years of age—today it is 82. The Age of Enlightenment, The Great Awakening, and The Industrial Revolution did not happen by accident and the constructs of representative government and capitalism have produced a society where each generation has grown up expecting their lives both spiritually and materially to be better than the generation that has proceeded them. Until now.

What has happened over the past 65 years to change the National Heart and Spirit? I believe in addition to a common faith in God that we still share as a people, we have had a common ethic—an ethic of work. A belief in the intrinsic value of work. From 1946 until 1965 the Federal poverty level went from 32%-14%. Since the beginning of the Great Society Programs in 1965 the FPL has only dropped to 11%, but until 3 years ago the labor force participation rate has steadily gone down. In the years after the Korean War unemployment and poverty dropped together. Work lifted all classes upward. Despite $10 trillion put into Federal poverty programs, the Poverty rate has dropped only 3%. Work is what lifts people out of poverty and we are seeing that today happening right in front of us.

In Columbus Ohio where I grew up, I worked for two summers at a wholesale lumber yard unloading box cars from trains and restacking the lumber for retail distributors to transport on their trucks. All kinds of people worked in the yard, mostly sons of immigrants and blacks whose parents had come to Ohio from Southern States to look for a better life. The worst thing any of us could say about each other was that someone was lazy. We all worked hard not to have that reputation.

When I went to College and played football half of my teammates were black. The other half seemed to be Scotch Irish or Polish—also 2nd generation Americans and the same idea about work and respect that hard workers had on the team was what I saw in the lumber yard. When I went into the military and served for almost 20 years it didn’t matter what your rank or color or ethnicity was you wanted to be a “4.0 sailor”, which meant you worked hard and were a good shipmate. Work was how you were judged. How did you do your job? Were you professional? To be an officer and be lazy put a mark on you that you would carry forever.

So those three places in my life—football, the lumber yard, and the military though just like in the civilian world there are military legacies that may have received favored treatment, were the places where work was most valued and where there was little privilege or entitlement.

I got my 1st look at entitlement in 1991 at our Catholic High School when our basketball coach cut a player from the team and then had to put him back on the team when the principle of the school told him that the player’s father had just made a big contribution to the school. I listened as the coach—who a year earlier had cut one of my son’s from the team, told the father that he was taking away a great teaching opportunity from his son. That opportunity to learn how to fail and move on. Two years later I saw a similar scene playout when one of our richer students failed to make the golf team and his father intervened—also a contributor putting the kid back on the team and taking the position from somebody else. Another life lesson missed because of privilege.

I played small college sports where we only received academic scholarships. After my second year, I was close to flunking out and I almost had to start all over. Nobody gave me special grades and I had to retake two chemistry courses. I had to dig myself out of the hole, but if I had been at a larger college on an athletic scholarship arrangements for me to get a “C” in those classes or for me to change majors so I could keep my scholarship would have been encouraged. Instead, I learned a great life lesson about “coming back from behind” and not quitting. I also had great coaches and professors who guided me and encouraged me.

The story above is about me but about 10 years ago there was a TV Special on ESPN called “Black Magic” about the historical Black Colleges and the athletic programs on those campuses. Several stories were told that were similar to mine about athletes being recruited who were not able to matriculate academically early in their college careers, but who through hard work, summer school and the discipline taught to them by professors and coaches were able to graduate—several with honors who went on to law and medical schools. At the end of the documentary the legendary coach “Big House Gains” and his wife were interviewed and they made the point that many of the Big University Programs do for their scholarship athletes is make them feel “special and entitled” they used the word “coddled” and once their 4 years were up they leave feeling the same way and without a skill. Coach Gaines believed that this was actually a form of indenturhood, and at the Black Institutions, they made sure not to make any student feel special or entitled.

So I believe that what is happening at the top and bottom of the social pyramid is the exact same thing. People are being made to feel “entitled”. The rich kid who doesn’t have to study to get into a good school because mommy and daddy will buy a building or give money to a foundation will take care of the situation. In reality for parents, it is admitting that they haven’t taken the time to instill in their children the skills that will allow them to compete and many times fail. They “hover and helicopter”. Our upper middle class is not able today to compete as a whole with many immigrant classes academically—especially Asians, Indians, and Hispanics. That is because they haven’t been competing during the developmental stages of their lives.

At the bottom we see what black educators like “Big House Gaines” and his wife talked about—the prejudice of low expectations. 10 years ago a Harvard study comparing academic achievement of black students entering Ivy League Schools and historically black schools was compared for STEM studies—mostly pre-med students. SAT scores were matched initially and then compared to MCAT scores after 5 years. The students from Howard, Tuskegee, Hampton, Fisk etc. did far better on their MCATS than the students from the Ivy League schools—in fact almost 80% of the Ivy League students had changed major after their freshman year, but only 30% at the HBC’s.

In 2004 there was a movie made starring James Garner called “The Ultimate Gift” It was about a spoiled rotten entitled 21-year-old who came from a spoiled rotten rich family of extreme means. When the patriarch of the family died he left everything to the spoiled grandson under the condition that he had one year to discover the “Ultimate Gift”. His 1st task was to work for a summer as a cowhand on a Texas ranch where he put in miles of fence and did hard labor—something he had never done before. This was his 1st gift. Why the first? Because all the other gifts required work.

The gifts of love of family, friendship, faith, benevolence, loneliness, grief, integrity, and failure, all required hard work. Without the gift of work, you can never be a father or a husband, or love your friends. So much of what we do at both ends of the economic pyramid we do out of a sense of benevolence, which may be very different than what our duty should be.

In place of any entitlement—license, affirmative action, or moneyed privilege, should be an obligation to work hard, love and respect others, and most of all Love God. Once we as a country reembrace our respect for work, the culture of victimhood will be seen for what it really is—a means to creating a state of dependency and as coach Gaines has said—”indenturhood”.

Those parents and educators who helped young people “game” their way into college took away a great gift from those kids. The gift of work, not to mention the opportunity to succeed on their own or even the chance to fail.