Entitlement– the fact of having a right to something.
When I hear the term entitlement I typically think of some government subsidy, food stamps, welfare, or disability payments. That may not be the correct connection but in my neck of the woods one is associated with the other. After a recent weekend of mountain biking in the wilds of rural Virginia I learned another use of the term entitlement, a perceived God-given right because of who someone thinks they are and what they think they deserve.
I just finished reading a book by J.D. Vance called Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis and I happened to hear some of the stories of the type of people Mr. Vance wrote about that weekend in Virginia. The area that we stayed in has one real industry, tourism, and unfortunately that business is seasonal, late Spring, Summer and early Fall, roughly seven months. According to one local I spoke with that had not always been the case.
At one time this community had three large employers, thriving industries that kept business on Main Street bustling. But then he said something happened. People got lazy and complacent. They didn’t work as hard as their parents or grandparents did. They thought they were “entitled” to the job, that the company “owed” them and their families. But it wasn’t reciprocal relationship for the younger generation like it was for him.
Eventually, he told me, production diminished and the quality of the products went down while the labor cost continued to climb. The math was simple, the price was too high to make a product of poor quality being sold at a cheap price so companies closed or moved their facilities to foreign countries.
I asked this gentleman did he blame the companies for leaving and his response was a very succinct, “Hell no.” He continued, “The only reason they stayed as long as they did was out of loyalty to the community. They warned us that something needed to change. Kids just kept laying out of work getting drunk or high.”
While my wife was shopping in one of the local stores I talked to the owner. He wasn’t from the community and had been open for about five years. He had moved there because of the scenery, and it was beautiful. He indicated business was okay, he wasn’t getting rich, but that wasn’t his goal. I asked him what his biggest challenges were and he said finding and keeping employees. I asked him why that was such a problem and he laughed, and said he didn’t know. The work wasn’t hard, show up, be nice, and smell good. You would think given those three criteria it would be pretty simple to find someone but it wasn’t. The end result was he was working more than he wanted and if he needed a day off he had to close the store.
I asked him what he thought the problem was and he said, “people think they are too good to start out at minimum wage. Honestly”, he added, “given how unmotivated they are, minimum wage is too much. If they showed up they were late. If they left for lunch they came back stoned two hours later and if I leave the store for just a minute they stole from me.”
This guy had a Bernie Sanders for President sticker on the front door of his shop and given the hundreds of Trump signs I had seen in yards around town I had asked him did he get much shit about it. He laughed and said, “most of those Trump signs you see are in yards of people who don’t want to work. They don’t have a pot to piss in but somehow they find money for smokes, beer and whatever shit they are snorting that day. I ain’t sure what they think Trump is going to do for them cause they sure as hell ain’t doing anything for themselves.”
The Declaration of Independence states that the government was created to protect our rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness“. It doesn’t say that someone is going to wake us up at seven so that we can be at work at eight. It doesn’t say that someone is going to give us a ride to work because we lost our driver’s license getting our third DUI. It doesn’t say you don’t have to pass a random drug test. It doesn’t even say we are owed or entitled to a job, food or shelter. We are responsible for creating our own life, liberty and happiness. Yours will probably look very different from mine and that’s okay as long as you are responsible for providing it or at least motivated enough to try.
So what’s to keep the glove factory operating on American soil rather than in Indonesia? The first thing we need to do is change our views about the products we buy. The “stuff” that we purchase is “cheap” and what comes along with “cheap” is “disposable”. If we buy a five dollar pair of gloves at Wal-Mart we don’t expect much out of them. If they last a month or two we think we have gotten our money’s worth. American manufacturers can’t afford to pay American workers to make five dollar gloves, but American consumers demand the ability to buy them. Want to keep manufacturing jobs in America? Make better “stuff”. Have consumers that are willing to pay more for the “stuff” we make. Have a motivated labor source willing to show up on time and work for a fair wage based on the free market. If we make products that the world perceives as valuable, then they will sale. All this talk about equal footing, or fair trade is just noise. It starts with us, both the worker and the consumer.
How does Donald Trump solve this? He can’t unless he changes the mindset of the American consumer which is very unlikely and he changes the entitlement ethos of the American worker which he won’t. Nationalism, or tribalism, isn’t going to solve our problems. Walling ourselves off from the rest of the world isn’t either. It should be a very interesting four years. I wonder though, what will it cost me, what will it cost us? My guess is more than we thought we would have to spend or at least more than Trump promised.
“It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.” – Henry Ford