Are liberal handouts replacing the American Dream with a culture of entitlement?

From small beginnings with free cell phones a decade ago, a culture of entitlement has expanded inexorably to encompass everything from guaranteed income to student loan forgiveness and free housing.

Published: April 10, 2023 11:50pm

More than halfway through Joe Biden's first term as president, many Americans are beginning to wonder: Has the American Dream given way to a culture of entitlement?

The American Dream is defined by Merriam-Webster as "a happy way of living that is thought of by many Americans as something that can be achieved by anyone in the U.S." through hard work, determination and individual responsibility."

America has long been known as the "land of opportunity," not only by its citizenry, but by most people around the globe. For generations, the U.S. has been regarded as a hub of technological innovation, economic freedom and growth and small business opportunity, evidenced by a multitude of "rags to riches" success stories. 

But recent trends seem to suggest that such inspirational examples of individual drive and upward mobility are being supplanted by a culture of entitlement. Slowly but surely, the notion of temporary welfare benefits and unemployment insurance to tide hardworking Americans over through hard times has given way to expectations of unearned, big government handouts and subsidies. From small beginnings with free cell phones a decade ago, the culture of entitlement has expanded inexorably to encompass everything from guaranteed income to student loan forgiveness and free housing.

Here are four major examples:

1. Subsidized homes

No milestone typified the American Dream more than buying or renting a home. But as home prices have skyrocketed and mortgage rates have spiked upward with inflation, the ability to own or even rent a house has become more challenging. 

That dynamic has spurred many blue states and cities to step in and use tax dollars to expand the subsidization of cheaper housing.

California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has led the way since 2020 with his "Prohousing" initiative to subsidize the creation of 2.5 million homes in his state. The various initiatives have committed a whopping $22.3 billion in taxpayer funds to underwrite housing, including most recently a plan to build 1,200 "tiny homes" for the homeless.

Newsom has committed another $1 billion to create housing for drug-addicted and mentally ill residents

Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, another liberal icon, has also pushed taxpayer-subsidized housing, including a major allotment to build nearly 700 affordable housing units at 17 different projects across Michigan. 

Large blue cities are also getting increasingly into the real estate market. MassDevelopment announced recently it is raising $25.9 million in tax-exempt bond funds to construct an 85-unit affordable rental housing structure in the Chinatown neighborhood of Boston.

In Jersey City, N.J., local officials are going a step further, proposing legislation that establishes a right to counsel — a subsidized housing lawyer — for tenants facing eviction.

2. Free college

In August, President Joe Biden rolled out his plan to eliminate $10,000-$20,000 of student loan debt per borrower, depending on eligibility, a move for which even Nancy Pelosi had previously admitted he lacked the authority. 

Immediately, Biden's student debt cancellation was met with a slew of legal challenges and widespread public scorn. Many were quick to point out that the proposal did not "cancel" loan debt so much as transfer it, with hardworking Americans who paid off their college debt or never even attended college forced to subsidize the degrees of everyone who did. 

Translation: Biden would require farmers to pay off the student debt of high-income professionals like doctors and lawyers. 

But shifting the burden of student loans is not the only perk the Democrats aim to give to students: Biden also proposed free community college in his American Families Plan.

The plan would allocate $300 billion for higher education, including a $109 billion federal grant for two years of free community college to anyone who wants it. He also called for tuition subsidies at minority-serving institutions and a $1,400 increase in Pell Grant caps.

Criticism of the plan was bipartisan. Comedian Bill Maher, for example, questioned whether it was "really liberal for someone who doesn't go to college and makes less money to pay for people who do go and make more?"

3. Reparations

Slavery reparations are another agenda item on the Democrats list of handouts. The argument goes that because black people today are descendants of slaves, the effects of slavery still harm them today more than 150 years later. 

In recent memory, the push for reparations has gone from a fringe talking point to being explored at the federal level.

Throughout his campaign and tenure in the White House, President Biden has been calculated in answering reparations questions. In 2021, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki remarked that Biden was committed to taking "comprehensive action" in addressing "the systemic racism that persists today." In 2020, he expressed his support for a federal commission to study and weigh reparations payments. 

That same year, Biden argued that the American Dream cannot be realized without first discussing redress for slavery.

"[W]e must acknowledge that there can be no realization of the American dream without grappling with the original sin of slavery, and the centuries-long campaign of violence, fear, and trauma wrought upon Black people in this country," he told The Washington Post.

Such claims raise more questions than they answer: How do we decide who qualifies for reparations? How much in reparations is enough? Will blacks who aren't slave descendants be cut a check, too? Despite such thorny issues, states have already gone far beyond anything the federal government has contemplated thus far.

In California, Newsom signed legislation in 2020 green-lighting a reparations task force to study how much money black residents should receive. In December 2022, that figure came in at $569 billion. A few months later, the figure was revised upward to $800 billion, or triple the size of California's total budget.

Local efforts in the Golden State have received even more attention. Last month, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors met to weigh a proposal that would award each black resident in the city a $5 million reparations payment. With approximately 50,000 black residents of the city, even reparations advocate Robin Simmons was unable to explain how San Francisco could afford these payments.

"I don't know," Simmons responded when asked about the proposal's feasibility. San Francisco is already facing an estimated $728 million budget deficit. 

But reparations are no longer mere proposals. As San Francisco was deliberating over reparations payments, Evanston, Ill., became the first city to enact them. In an 8-1 vote in March, the Chicago suburb's City Council voted to distribute $400,000 checks to each black household as they reportedly are expanding their reparations program.

4. Universal Basic Income

Reparations are not the only means by which Democrats would provide direct economic support on a mass scale. A universal basic income (UBI) has also entered the national conversation. 

Popularized by failed presidential candidate Andrew Yang, UBI was a central point in his Democratic campaign. In a 2019 debate, he proposed $1,000 monthly checks to "every American" over 18, touting it as “a deeply American idea.” 

The price tag for such a proposal is virtually unfathomable. With an estimated 234 million American adults at the time, Yang was advocating a $2.8 trillion annual government handout.

Though Americans seem to reject UBI, some say Biden has subtly introduced its underlying assumptions into American law himself. 

The COVID-19 pandemic opened a world of possibilities for UBI advocates, and Biden took full advantage of them in 2021, signing into law the $1.9 trillion "American Rescue Plan." Billed as providing "direct relief to Americans," the legislation issued four stimulus checks totaling $5,600 to all eligible Americans, as well as $3,000 in child tax credits.

But also included in the legislation were weekly $300 enhanced unemployment payments. These federal payments coupled with generous state unemployment benefits established a "wage floor" that effectively incentivized people to stop looking for work and instead collect checks from the government. While small businesses were forced to close their doors from a lack of workers, more than 16 million able-bodied Americans were living off of unemployment benefits rather than contributing to the economy.

A 2019 study by Public Services International reviewed fifteen different attempts to implement UBI in poverty-stricken nations such as India, Malawi, Kenya and more, as well as wealthier nations like Finland, parts of Canada and even the U.S. Ultimately, it was deemed not to be sustainable anywhere — short or long term — and produced "no evidence that any version of UBI can be affordable, inclusive, sufficient and sustainable at the same time." 

Follow Addison on Twitter.

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