The Age of Entitlement

My dear friend, business partner, and now neighbor here at La Estancia, Doug Casey, regularly stresses the importance of starting any discussion by defining the important terms. As we'll be discussing the matter of entitlement today, let's kick things off with the definition from Merriam-Webster:


  • The condition of having a right to have, do, or get something

  • The feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges)

  • A type of financial help provided by the government for members of a particular group

In its morally correct form, a person is perfectly justified in feeling entitled when they have a clear contract providing them a specific right.

For example, if you as an employee have a contract with your employer that specifies the terms of your employment and you don't break the terms of that contract, you are legally and morally entitled to receiving the benefits therein specified.

Of course, things are not always quite so black and white. For instance, those of you dear readers living in the US who have spent a lifetime paying into the Social Security system may be justified in feeling entitled, upon attaining the requisite age, to the promised income stream. Yet, given that everyone has ready access to a large number of analyses exposing the viability of Social Security as poor fiction, should you really feel entitled? Or just hopelessly gullible?

But I drift. Yanking the tiller back toward the general compass point I am tacking toward, I would like to start by briefly touching upon some of the classes of people that believe themselves entitled.

And not just entitled to a single payday or a specific benefit, but rather, they appear to feel permanently entitled.

I will then try to round up all the characters into a larger corral where we can explore the consequences of the growing entitlement classes.

The Warped Wealthy. That sound is my fingers furiously tapping out a caveat that most of the financially successful individuals I know—in particular, those whose wealth resulted from hard work and taking big personal risks—are down to earth and appreciate everything their wealth allows to them. They know how much work it takes to amass significant net worth and further understand that, short of winning the lottery, the average person with average aspirations and an average tolerance for work is unlikely to achieve true financial freedom, and they are empathetic toward them.

That said, I have come across any number of wealthy individuals who enjoy nothing more than lording their good fortune over the rest of humanity. More often than not, the wealthy who fall into this subset made their fortunes by being in the right place at the right time, for example dot-com millionaires or members of the lucky-sperm club.

In an earlier derivation of my life, I spent a fair amount of time hanging out with captains of Wall Street, the sort with houses in the Hamptons and whose hairs are coiffed in scented salons by people named Oscar at $400 a go. In many cases, the source of their wealth could be traced back to university connections that landed them in the upper echelon of the equivalent of a pyramid scheme where, with hardly having to lift a finger, a fraction of a fraction of billions of dollars in transactions flowed daily into their Savile Row-stitched pockets.

Regardless, the warped wealthy not only expect full value for money, they want everyone their shadow falls upon to be diffident and to cater to their every whim. Failure to show proper appreciation that you are in their company will, as sure as night follows day, get you a dismissive sniff or, if it's a bad hair day, a proper dressing down.

While I begrudge no one their wealth, per above, when someone begins to conflate wealth with entitlement, I have a problem.

Politicians. When living in Louisiana years ago, I was invited to a cocktail party where I was introduced to a somewhat overweight and sweaty individual wearing the only suit in the room. Making small talk, I inquired as to the nature of his work, and he proudly announced that he was an aspiring politician (at which point, I made my polite apologies to attend to urgent business on the other side of the room). Yet, if the sweaty schlep actually managed to attract a sufficient number of votes, he would have been promptly promoted to a class of individuals entitled to a long list of benefits. Including—should he rise high enough within the political machine—ready access to private jets and a lifelong pension.

On a lower level, while lifelong pensions have all but disappeared in the private sector, by virtue of just showing up at the office each day for a few years, many bureaucrats become entitled to the equivalent of tenure and, upon concluding their "public service," a comfortable pension.

Yuppies. A travel industry professional once shared with me what is apparently common knowledge among his peers: Yuppies are the worst travelers. I have personally witnessed the truth of that statement many times over, most noticeably when a flight is canceled or a hotel overbooked, inconveniencing a yuppie in the process.

At which point, I find it entertaining to observe the yuppie's antics as they attempt to argue the plane back on schedule, or to browbeat the hotel manager into coming up with a suitable room.

In my opinion, this sense of yuppie entitlement comes from the near certainty that never before in the history of the world has there been a generation that has had things as soft and sweet as the yuppies/baby boomers.

Sure, there was something of a blip during the Vietnam era, but other than that we've had a lifetime of prosperity. And with the exception of Vietnam and out-of-sight-therefore-out-of-mind sport wars that other generations have been willing to fight, peace.

We got to go to college if we were so inclined, and we were ensured gainful employment whether we went to college or not. Unfortunately, a large number of yuppies don't fully appreciate what an historical rarity such a long period of peace and prosperity is. They will be in for a rough awakening as Pax Yuppie is rapidly coming to an end. Their future expectations, understandably based on past experiences, are likely to be disappointed.

Even so, for the time being, they continue to feel entitled to a life path free of serious bumps, though the unnerving sound of footsteps approaching down the empty hallway scratch at the edge of their collective consciousness.

Old People. Over the last century, responsibility for the care and feeding of the elderly has been steadily transferred from families to society at large. This alteration of the social contract, though likely springing from good intentions, is manifested in the widespread attitude that the state should provide at least a baseline level of support for the elderly, even if the state can't actually afford it.

This sense of entitlement is underscored each election day when the oldsters turn out in droves to reward politicians who confirm them in their benefits, and punish those that even hint at curtailing same.

The Poor. Like the elderly, over the past century the social contract was redrafted to include a long list of benefits for individuals who steadily fail to achieve a certain income threshold. Collectively, the number of programs and their reach is staggering. To provide just one example, upwards of 50 million people in the United States are now entitled to purchase their daily bread using debit cards linked to the public treasury. The chart here presents a picture of entitlements gone wild.

"Special" Groups. At the risk of offending a wide swath of dear readers, I would bring your attention to your fellow citizens who use their specialness to demand special rights and entitlements.


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