Culture of Entitlement Threatens Entrepreneurship

Friday, 07 Sep 2012 12:26 PM

By Fran Tarkenton

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Two of the most important words that all Americans should be talking about are the 2 E’s: Entrepreneurship and Entitlements. For America to really turn around, we need a lot more of one, and a lot less of the other.

The greatness of America does not come from Washington, DC. It comes from the innovation and creativity of millions of entrepreneurs. It comes from people who are looking for new ways to solve the problems that all of us face in our lives. It comes from people of every walk of life, from every background, who are united by their search for great ideas.

bernie-marcus.jpg
Bernie Marcus could never have built Home Depot without a sense of desperation.
(Getty Images)
In America, more than any place else in history, we celebrate success. We don’t have a hereditary class structure, barring people from certain avenues just by virtue of their birth. We have never been a nation that attacked the successful.

We celebrate our great entrepreneurs like no place else. Alongside the names of political and military heroes, our children are just as likely to learn the names of great inventors and entrepreneurs who changed the world. Thomas Edison. Henry Ford. Steve Jobs.

Our most successful entrepreneurs have been rewarded with fame and fortune, providing great incentives for our best and brightest to enter the private sector and offer real value to people. The result? The greatest economic miracle in history. And that miracle has created great revenues that have been used to help those the most in need.

But if entrepreneurship represents the best of America, mismanaged entitlements threaten to undo us. There are two ways in particular that entitlements are harmful.

First is the cost. Entitlement spending — most notably programs like Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and unemployment insurance, among others — totaled two thirds of all federal spending!

It is a moral obligation to take care of those Americans who need it. And Americans are the most generous people in the world, ready to do whatever they can. No one wants to abandon seniors and the needy. But we must fulfill this task in a way that is sustainable for the future and efficient in its use of resources. We have to actually be able to solve these very real problems, both now and in the future!

Right now, we are falling short on both accounts. That great wealth of this country, which should be more than sufficient to create a safety net for those down on their luck, has been spent inefficiently and ineffectively. As a result, the future of these vital programs is in doubt without some kind of reform.

We will not be able to meet our obligations and fulfill our promises to seniors and those in need without reforming the system to make it sustainable.

As the cost of government skyrockets, the only possible way to pay for it all will be through massive tax hikes that punish the successful and reduce the incentive for entrepreneurs to create and innovate. If our great entrepreneurs are not creating wealth, jobs, and tax revenue, then it is those who need the most help who will be the most harmed.

Without reform, we will no longer be able to help those who need it. It’s not about eliminating the safety net — it’s about reforming it!

But the second problem with entitlements is just as damaging, and more subtle. A culture of entitlements changes the mindset of the American people. Instead of looking for ways to better themselves, or looking for ways to help others, they are tempted to look for ways to get government to help them. Self-reliance is replaced by reliance on Washington.

Worse, the sense of desperation that drives so many entrepreneurs is undermined. Starting a business is hard work.

Keeping it going is just as hard if not harder! Throughout history, many great entrepreneurs have been driven by fear, by the need to succeed or else. There is a desire to strive toward something greater, to reach for something higher, no matter how much effort it takes.

An entitlement culture makes life comfortable and removes that desperation. The rewards of striving are not seen as worth the massive amounts of effort they require. Life might not be perfect, but it is good enough. That attitude is poison to the entrepreneurial spirit.

Bernie Marcus, as he said to me in an interview, never could have built Home Depot without that sense of desperation. Sam Walton could not have built Walmart if he felt satisfied with “good enough.” Steve Jobs never was comfortable with a minimum level of success at Apple.

We have a choice as a culture, and it transcends our political parties, both of which have a history of being part of the problem when it is politically convenient. No matter who you vote for, you need to send a message that America should have a culture of entrepreneurship, not a culture of entitlement.

That’s our only hope for the future.

Fran Tarkenton is the Founder and CEO of OneMoreCustomer.com, a web resource for Small Business Advocacy and Education. After his Hall of Fame football career, Fran had a successful career in television and then turned to business. He has founded and built more than 20 successful companies and now spends his time coaching aspiring entrepreneurs. Read more reports from Fran Tarkenton — Click Here Now.

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