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Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Entitlement « The Australian Independent Media Network

Entitlement « The Australian Independent Media Network


is much inequality in the world, writes Peter Barnes, and much of it is
due to the colour of your skin, or your gender, or your socio-economic
status. For those who don’t suffer from inequality, there comes a sense
of entitlement.

One of the great things about Australia is that any child can grow up to be Prime Minister.

Travel to any Western democracy and you’ll hear the same thing, with
slight variations; the great thing about the USA is that any child can
grow up to be President, and so on.

Any child. Even a girl – in Australia, but so far not the USA. Even a person of colour – in the USA, but so far not Australia.

Which really makes you stop for a moment, because, hang
on, isn’t half the population female? Isn’t that a bit weird, over a
hundred years of Prime Ministers – twenty eight Prime Ministers – and so
far only one girl has made it? Two hundred and twenty odd years of
Presidents in the US – forty four Presidents – and so far only one
person of colour has made it, and no girls at all?

Yet half of children are girls.

Perhaps there’s more to it than being a child and growing up.

While our constitution, our voting systems and our laws don’t prohibit
any child from becoming Prime Minister, it’s painfully obvious that
those aren’t the only things stopping at least half our children from
achieving that goal. As Anatole France said a long time ago “The law, in
its majestic equality, forbids both rich and poor alike to sleep under
bridges, beg in the streets, and steal bread”.

Perhaps it helps to be a particular kind of child?

While we all may be born equal under the law, we are certainly not
born with equal opportunity. Nobody can deny that a male caucasian child
born to a rich family living in a capital city has some advantages; you
only have to look at the faces in Parliament to see the truth in that.
That’s not to say that any other child still cannot become
Prime Minister; it’s just an unarguable fact that, so far, only one has

That’s not the entitlement this article is about, however.

So, what other entitlement is there? Few would argue that, in
general, your race, colour, gender, wealth, location and many other
factors make it easier, or harder, for you to succeed.

It seems obvious, then, that circumstance and luck will play a part
in any success – or so you’d think. But here’s the strange thing.
Successful people don’t believe that. They might agree about it in
general, but never in their own particular case.

The entitlement I’m talking about is the entitlement assumed by the “successful”, and its consequences for their behaviour.

How does it work?

Many of those who succeed truly believe
that their success is not because they had greater advantages, or luck.
They believe it’s because they are truly better. More, they believe
that they deserve everything they have, because they’ve earned it by
being better – no matter how much they’ve got.

There’s more. Having succeeded, they truly believe that anybody else could also succeed, if only they wanted to or tried hard enough.

In fact, they actually believe that those less fortunate deserve their misfortune! Why? Because they didn’t try hard enough.

The following poll comes from the USA, however the basic distinction
between conservatives (Republicans) and liberals (Democrats) is also
true in Australia. The poll asks the simple question: are poor people
poor because of circumstances, or because of lack of effort?

Roughly half of Americans believe that poor people are poor because
of their circumstances. However there’s a massive difference when you
break that down by party affiliation. Less than 30% of Republicans think
it’s because of circumstances, while over 60% of Democrats do.

Put another way, 57% of Republicans believe that poor people are poor simply because they don’t try hard enough.

Opinion gaps in opinions about why people are poor

Think about that. Nearly two thirds of conservatives think that poor people’s poverty is their own fault.

Which, when you think about it, could be translated into saying that
the reason why we’ve had twenty eight Prime Ministers and only one
female Prime Minister is that basically women just aren’t trying hard

Another way to look at it is to observe that in the USA the top 0.01% of households earned an average of US$10.25 million per year. The overall average for the US was US$51,000. As Matthew Hutson points out in his excellent article, “Social Darwinism Isn’t Dead“, that logically means that the top households are 200 times smarter and work 200 times harder than the average household . . .

You hear stories about poor people who are successful “against the
odds”, but strangely those odds don’t get mentioned when the more
privileged are successful. It’s the same for arguments about
intelligence, hard work, or any other quality. They don’t guarantee
success, and successful people don’t necessarily have them.

Let’s face it, if you work hard and are successful you’d much rather
believe that your success was due entirely to your own efforts and
intelligence, and not just luck or good birth. It’s only human nature.
It’s what follows that belief that’s dangerous.

There’s a lot of other research into this,  here, here, here, here, here and here.

So what’s the problem?

The problem comes when people with those beliefs – particularly when
rich, successful conservative politicians – decide policies about social
welfare, health and education.

Research here, and this article here, document how poorer
people give more than twice as much to charity, proportional to income,
as rich people. Simply put, the poor are generous because they know
what hardship and privation are. The rich are not, either because they
have no experience, or because they actually don’t think the poor
deserve it.

Recent figures indicate that the world’s richest 1% own 46% of
the world’s assets. And this research shows that, largely, they think
they got that wealth because they’re better, and they deserve it. And
the poor are poor because they don’t work hard enough.

If you’re conservative, or rich, or both, you’ll probably hold those
beliefs. It’s not very hard then to see why you might not believe in age
pensions, subsidised health care, unemployment benefits and many other
publicly funded services. It’s not very hard to see why you would have
no qualms at all in cutting back those schemes simply based on your
personal beliefs and ideology, regardless of the economic circumstances.

The very way Joe Hockey uses the term “entitlement” clearly indicates
that he thinks it’s optional, and its time is over. Of course an
entitlement is a right, and most Australians believe our society has
agreed that things like pensions and medical care are rights.

The following graph, again from the USA but likely to be repeated
here, particularly on predictions of the coming budget, shows the change
in cost of various goods and services over the last ten years.
Chillingly, while “things” are getting cheaper, critical services like
health and education are increasing in cost. Poor, unhealthy, uneducated
people are not going to escape from this trap.


 However the entitled don’t believe in a poverty trap.

In the article “Noblesse Oblige? Social Status and Economic Inequality Maintenance among Politicians“, Michael Kraus and Bennett Callaghan examine the policy and voting patterns in US government.

Their study shows that Republicans tend to support legislation
increasing economic inequality regardless of their social status. For
Democrats, their social status – measured in terms of average wealth,
race, or gender – was a significant predictor of support for economic
inequality. That is, even amongst Democrats, if you’re rich and
successful, you’ll vote for legislation that continues or increases
economic inequality.

A scan of the benches in Parliament
reveals many rich white males making our current policy decisions.
Although parliamentarians represent us, they are not representative of
us. For example, in the Australian population, about half a percent are
lawyers by occupation. In the current Parliament, 60 parliamentarians,
or 25%, are lawyers.

This is not a call to class warfare. Neither is it an assault on
wealth. What I’m trying to point out is that there are well documented,
honestly held beliefs held by conservatives and the successful that
simply do not match up with reality. Those real beliefs, in turn, lead
to policies that are generally harmful to people who are already
vulnerable. If there’s class warfare, that’s its source. If there’s an
unreasonable distribution of wealth, that’s where it starts.

So the Age of Entitlement is not over. It is over for the sick, the
poor, and defenceless. It’s alive and well and built into the belief
systems and psyche of a large majority of conservative politicians, and
the conservative voters who support them.

We can trace the upcoming budget and all social legislation far more
easily to the government’s personal and ideological beliefs than to any
reality in the economy or the needs of the poor, the sick, the aged or
the young. If those groups have problems, it’s their own fault!

In Australia a girl of colour from a poor background may one day be
Prime Minister, but not while the current, entitled, incumbents govern,
and the current incumbents truly believe that they’re entitled.

This article was first published on Peter’s blog infinite8horizon and has been republished with permission.

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