Is an “entitlement mentality” a sign of evil in our nation?


The recent politically-charged stake conference address in Sandy, combined with the Medicaid expansion debate on Utah’s Capitol Hill, has re-ignited the following debate: Is an “entitlement mentality” a sign of evil in our nation?

Let me be clear: I would like nothing better than to live in a society where hard working young family fathers and struggling single mothers had the ability to provide for their families, without help from the government. We actually used to be closer to that ideal than we are now. When I was a young teenager back in the late sixties and early seventies, all the families I knew, even those whose fathers had humble occupations, were able to provide at least a modest home and the basic needs for their families, including health care.

Thanks to collective decisions we have made in our democracy, two things have changed since then. We have created a health care delivery system so expensive that no family can afford health care on their own. If your employer or the government doesn’t provide basic health insurance, it’s simply too expensive for any but the most wealthy to afford. The other change we’ve created is an economic system that has resulted in the largest disparity between the rich and the poor than any other developed nation on earth. Related to this, and supported by multiple international studies, is the fact that poor children in the United States have the lowest chance of improving their lot in life than any other developed country.

There will always be a tiny minority of people in any society who fit the description of “takers”. But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about good, hardworking people who can’t provide for their families – especially when it comes to basic health care – no matter how hard they try. The cost is simply out of reach.

We, as a democratic society, have collectively created the society that produces suffering among good people whose only sin is not having an employer willing to pay for basic health care, and where hard working folks not blessed by God with the skills to be an investment banker can’t earn enough to provide for their families. We, as a democratic society, need to collectively step up to the plate and give those hard working people a hand up (not a handout) to achieve self-sufficiency. That’s what the Church teaches, and based on my training as a new bishop several years ago, the Church thinks it’s okay to make wise use of government programs to accomplish this. We also must fix the broken system we have all created and are all responsible for. Although not perfect, the Medicaid expansion of the Affordable Care Act is a good place to start.

Brigham Young once said, “I have seen many cases… where the young lady would have to take her clothing on a Saturday night and wash it, in order that she might go to meeting on the Sunday with a clean dress on. Who is she laboring for? For those who, many of them, are living in luxury. And, to serve the classes that are living on them, the poor, the laboring men and women are toiling, working their lives out to earn that which will keep a little life in them. Is this equality? No! What is going to be done? The Latter-day Saints will never accomplish their mission until this inequality shall cease on the earth.”

Do we have a problem with an “entitlement mentality” among the Latter-day Saints? I believe we do. The really evil entitlement mentality in our midst exists with those who have been deluded into believing that they are entitled to complete enjoyment of all the material goods they have acquired through the talents and privileges the good Lord has given them, their “gold, silver, silks and fine-twined linens”, without feeling the need to take any thought toward the poor other than to toss a twenty dollar bill to the bishop every Fast Sunday.

Now that would make an appropriate subject for a stake conference talk.

23 comments on “Is an “entitlement mentality” a sign of evil in our nation?

  1. Chris says:

    I agree with every word. Big thanks Steve for articulating what I’ve been thinking. I wish that we could have serious national debate on making welfare programs that are more empowering and more of a hand up. Instead we are talking about throwing the baby (almost literally) out with the bath water.

  2. John S. Harvey says:

    Thank you! Brigham’s quote sums up the situation and our *collective* responsibility perfectly. Just to repeat: (Brigham Young once said) “I have seen many cases… where the young lady would have to take her clothing on a Saturday night and wash it, in order that she might go to meeting on the Sunday with a clean dress on. Who is she laboring for? For those who, many of them, are living in luxury. And, to serve the classes that are living on them, the poor, the laboring men and women are toiling, working their lives out to earn that which will keep a little life in them. Is this equality? No! What is going to be done? The Latter-day Saints will never accomplish their mission until this inequality shall cease on the earth.”

    The extreme income and wealth inequality evident in both the “World” (as the LDS understand and use that term) *and* within our own Church members situations (and the related society it/we exist/s within) are unacceptable for a Zion striving type people. I would note that it is NOT the amount of the difference which is necessarily unacceptable, but how MEAGER/INSUFFICIENT the bottom portion of the income/wealth distribution is (in my opinion).

  3. Linda Romney Swain says:

    It is so nice to know that someone out there “gets it”! What is the story of the Good Samaritan about if not helping those who aren’t “us”? Some members of the church (apparently quite a few) feel that their help doesn’t have to extend beyond their ward or stake boundaries. They seem to feel that If you’re not Mormon, you should get help somewhere else (unless, of course, you’re affected by a disaster).
    I don’t think that’s what Jesus would say. He tells us, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give ye rest” (Matt. 11:28). I don’t see any qualifiers in “all ye.” Any and all are welcome.
    In Mosiah 4:22-23, 26, King Benjamin tells us,
    <blockquote cite="22 And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.
    23 I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are rich as pertaining to the things of this world….
    26 And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.“>
    Sometimes individuals helping individuals works great; but in a time when the need is so great and so widespread, we need a mechanism for helping a large number of people in as efficient a manner as possible. If that means Medicare and Social Security taxes, then I’m all for it. If it means the Affordable Care Act, what’s stopping us? “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:7)

  4. Brian King says:

    Perfect Steve, thank you. The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants are replete with references to the problems that come with great inequality in wealth and income in both ancient and modern society. Worshipping at the altar of the free market is just another form of idolatry.

  5. Kate says:

    “Inaction in the face of the current situation invites moral censure on each of us individually…I can easily imagine a hereafter in which most of the regretting, repenting, and pain experienced by contemporary middle-and upper-class ‘active’ American Mormons is due to the sin of keeping too much for ourselves.”- BYU sociology professor Richard Johnson

  6. Carolyn says:

    I agree with this observation of our society’s disease of entitlement. If you have had the opportunity to travel to 3rd world countries you will know we as American’s are extremely comfortable even in our “suffering” comparatively, and are also not required to work that hard for what we do have. Many of our necessities are in fact luxuries. Is it really necessary to have a dual income to provide for a family more stuff and more lessons for our kids as we have been brainwashed to think. If we really took into account where our goods come from, most are from China sweat shops where employees work 16 hour days for meager wages (Ya your Levi’s, bikes, home decor, and designer jeans) Our food if not machine mass harvested GMO crops is harvested mostly by Mexican immigrants painfully bent over day after day earning maybe $5 an hour and we complain they should pay taxes on that little amount, shouldn’t be entitled to health care nor their children given a public education..would any of our fathers work that hard for that little to provide for us? Would a lawyer or a businessman agree to do that even part time? Who decides who’s work is more valuable than the others.

    We are SO removed from the source of our consumer goods. Even parts of 1st world where the collective populous pays large amounts of taxes to even out the wealth and have secured healthcare and college level educations for all their citizens, have made the sacrifice of owning less property and stuff to participate in the well being of their nations survival as a whole. They have plenty of freedom to travel and educate themselves but their society does not prioritize material goods and ownership of luxuries as signs of success. We have to change our attitudes about what this entitlement attitude is and where it came from and sacrifice a little of our comfort for the good of the whole nation. The healthcare system has become so corrupt it seems one cannot qualify for it’s services unless one’s career is aligned with the benefits a corporation can provide or a high paying profession. I myself was turned down for healthcare by Blue Cross Blue shield and Intermountain Health care because of a “pre-existing condition” a simple heart murmur that has been proven embarrassingly I had to rely on government assisted health care…there is no other way…unless I change my career..but we can’t all be bankers, secretaries for corporations, lawyers, doctors, underpaid teachers. etc.
    Anyhow it is easy to complain and so difficult to make changes. But we can help each other feel happy about living a simpler, less consumer oriented life, and maybe barter for piano or guitar lessons, and influence our kids sports teams to simplify the team expenses, let our kids do more work around the house, earn their own money to pay for a movie or new clothes, a used car, or their friend’s birthday present, giving them the opportunity to feel independent, self sufficient.
    I have to comment on Brigham Youngs quote about the dress…while he was a great leader, our leaders too have faults. My grandmother was the seamstress for the Young girls and noted the Young girls always had the finest fabrics and fashions (the taffetas and silks) for their dresses while cotton and gingham was the dress of the common Mormon girl. SO we do need to practice what we preach. Thanks for posting this dialogue. Good luck to us all as we simplify and make changes within our own lives that will hopefully affect the collective life of our nation and our Mormon community.

    1. Carolyn says:

      I need to make a correction. It was my Swedish born great grandmother not grandmother who was one of the seamstresses for Brigham Young’s daughters. Also I hope my tone was not taken to be preachy (to the choir mostly:) because we very few of us are not hypocrites. I still drive my car too much and tout conservation of fossil fuels!;) but if we can make a little progress in the right direction, that IS progress.

  7. Mark Lees says:

    Is an “entitlement mentality” a sign of evil in our nation? No it is not. It is a sign of a failed liberal policy. You cannot deny the fact that our society has developed an entitlement mentality. Please open your eyes. You are blinded by the platitudes of liberal philosophy. The Democrat party’s singular goal is to create a large permanent underclass. Democrats increase their political power by having citizens rely on the government for their everyday needs.
    Liberals are not the sole group with a lock on helping the poor. Research shows that conservatives contribute more to charitable causes than liberals. Additionally, Mormons are very generous in their charitable giving.
    Throwing more money at the poor is not the solution. This country has spent 15 trillion dollars on the “war on poverty” since 1964. The result, a poverty rate that has barely moved, an entrenched bureaucracy, and a population that increasingly dependent on government handouts.

  8. Paul says:

    Well said! Touché! Can you please give a source for the BY quote?

  9. Lani says:

    Steve – I think you are twisting things a bit!! First I want to remind you that we as LDS people are the most giving, generous group of people there is. We live by God’s commands to help the poor, the afflicted, the helpless. Our motto is “Charity Never Faileth” and yet – you say we aren’t doing enough?

    Steve – tell the Federal Government to stop interferring in our lives. Let us have free enterprise, competition, markets that set the rules. You want affordable healthcare? Get rid of ridiculous lawsuits – tort reform – so cost of health insurance goes down. Allow insurers to compete in an open market place. Why did our government have to start a new bureaucracy to tell us how we will be taken care of – to change society into a MORE socialist environment? Government isn’t a cure all!! We the people make things happen and usually for the better. Can you believe the society we live in with all the gadgets, and conveniences. Government didn’t do that!! Free enterprise and “an idea acted upon” did. You seem to blame and blame and never look at the good in PEOPLE!! You must believe God has punished some of us to suffer in this life and we have to straighten that out and make it fair and therefore – we need our government to do that for us because certainly no one individual would CARE enough to make things fair!! HOGWASH!! Our country has proven otherwise with all the charities, the donations, Goodwill Industries and Deseret Industries as examples… foundations, services… a myriad of good by individuals giving back to society!! But this government is changing those opportunities with their rules and power. They want to be the end all…

    But what is fair? Are you going to tell me? Who tells me what is fair? Our President?

    We are the wealthiest nation on earth yet you say we provide the biggest disadvantage for poor children to better themselves. How could that be with the trillions of your dollars, my dollars, our neighbor’s dollars that are spent to provide everything to everybody! Our poor have TVs – maybe many TVs, cell phones, free homes, free food, free dental, free healthcare, free education, free… and you say we don’t care?

    I resent you singing the Obama song of rich vs poor! We all have potential in some way to be all we can be. We are only limited in how we think about ourselves. Or maybe I should say – what we are told to think about ourselves. Like Obama always emphasizing that the rich don’t deserve their wealth because poor people just don’t have the opportunity to be rich like them. SO – the rich have to give more to the government to give to the poor they way the government believes YOUR money and MY money should be spent. I resent that government interference!! Yes, we help those in need and some programs have been good for handicap, indigent people but we certainly have made people believe government is better than self reliance. We have all been “endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. SO – What we do with OUR life is up to us! I’ve seen decrepit twisted, without legs or arms – humans succeed where others who are whole and healthy choose to sit and feel sorry for themselves. So what is fair?

    YEP… Obama and YOUR party are creating an entitlement society. Why is it 54% (last I heard) receive some sort of support or money from this government? I’m trying to figure out how I get MY share of freebies – heck!! Isn’t that what happens? You have some? Well – I want some too… That is what is wrong!! Talk about that and maybe we will raise a society of proud, self sufficient adults determined to succeed and provide for a better world!!

  10. Big Bad John says:

    I’m currently living in England and an intrigued as to what was said at the Stake Conference in Sandy!
    Can someone satisfy my curiosity, please?

    1. Rick says:

      I believe Steve was referring to a stake president ( the name was like De Vissar?)
      lamenting Obama’s election. He implied Obama was a socialist and he showed a total ignorance of D&C 49:20. His accusations against Obama could be made against virtually all US presidents of the last century.

  11. Kerby says:

    Steve- I respectfully disagree. If we are going to use the gospel as a guide (which I do) to our political beliefs, then let me propose a few questions: First, why is it that the church does not have a progressive tithe policy similar to that of the country’s? Why on earth would the Lord require 10% from those who earn almost nothing? Does he not see the blatant inequality here on this earth? Why does he not require the top earners to pay a higher percentage, Say, 35%? And those that are in the bottom half of earners to pay nothing? Secondly, why is it that the church does not REQUIRE it’s members to pay tithing- meaning, do it, or else face disfellowship? Let me answer these for you. The reason that the Lord does not have a progressive tithe rate or require it’s members to pay tithe is because the purpose of this life is to LEARN charity, not simply for charity to occur (and by this latter definition of charity I mean something to be given from one person to another requiring nothing in return.) The Lord’s people will give of their own free will and choice and everyone shall pay the same percentage. Those that have a little will give a little and those that have a lot will give a lot so that all may RECEIVE the blessing of sacrifice. That blessing is learning what it feels like to give of your own free will and choice to someone who needs. You see, the fundamental flaw with your post is that you confuse real true charity with material substances changing hands. In requiring to pay the government a certain percentage of my income or face prison I do not learn true charity and my receiver does learn true gratitude. This is the great dilemma of our time called the “entitlement mentality.” A whole generation of people living in this free world that have been made to believe they are victims of a system rigged against them and should therefore accept our payments of reparation. You need to study the war in heaven and ponder on the true purpose and meaning of why Christ’s plan was accepted by the father and the the adversary’s.

    1. Kerby says:

      and my receiver does *not* learn true charity. Sorry. Wrote fast.

    2. John S. Harvey says:

      Actually the Church DOES have a progressive taxation policy. Just search the General Conference talks for the past several decades and it will become very clear that the prophets and apostles have said our fast offerings, and other offerings are supposed to go up substantially as our income goes up, they should not stay at a constant percentage, and they should cover more than the cost of the meals, etc. as our income goes up. As to the poor paying 10% tithing, absolutely true, BUT the Church often then turns around and provides them with food, rent, and other care. So many poor Church members “pay” a net negative amount.

  12. Carolyn says:

    Addressing Lani’s and Mark’s responses. Factually we (Mormon’s) are not the most giving generous people there are. We do a great deal and that is wonderful. I have been affiliated with many different churches and charitable organizations that give as much or more than Mormons toward emergency relief and welfare. We may however be the some of the most sheltered people as far as really knowing what is going on out there, because our needs are provided by a very insular community, so why expose ourselves to other ideas and people resources and thinking when we are comfortable.
    To me it is not a Democrats vs. Republican issue (the entitlement idea) we all have it. (Steve’s wife posted a very interesting article about the political history of the early church, when in the SL Valley, most church members were allied with the Democratic party at first as the Republican party was for prosecuting Mormon polygamists. Brigham Young later assigned families to each party to keep it bi-partisan…I was a Republican but after much life experience outside Utah and the US, and after working with drug addicted adults and teens and people benefitting from social services I became more liberal in my alliance, but I will vote Republican if that candidate has actual solutions I believe he/she can carry out. I do believe it is imperative that we are “our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper”…many cannot do for themselves as they are quite damaged..and change takes patience and healing time. Our government is not some alien force trying to control IS “We the people”, WE who have elected these officials. I do believe most leaders have the desire to do what is right for the is extremely complicated to appease all factions of a populous. SO one such as Obama has to do what is pertinent to the long term success of the whole (considering our future, not the quick fix to appease the impatient) I like to follow people who seem logical, compassionate, wise and honest. I will watch or listen to conservative sources such as people like Glenn Beck, Rush or Fox News who persuade by emotionalism, fear and theatrics, but I will not be pulled in by only their views. I feel many of the conservative leaders are this way and it turns me off. Listen to a voice that fills you with hope, not fear. and listen to both sides. We are not entitled to a perfect world or a perfect government either, unless we are doing our part to help fix things, or making the changes in our personal lives that will have a positive affect on others.

  13. Eli says:

    I do not know who to reply to. I guess everybody.

    Background: I recently attended LDS Business College for a semester as an early college student. I was definitely not in the political ideology minority at LDSBC. Of the people I talked to, which were a lot throughout the semester, I never found a single person who was not receiving financial assistance with their tuition from the government. I did as well, because it is made available to all, equal opportunity, right? When filling out paperwork it was hard NOT to receive FAFSA funding. It was as if it is required. On the same line, EVERYONE that attends LDSBC that is a member of the church is subsidized by the church through tithes. Everyone was receiving a “hand out” of some kind.

    This is one example, and a little oddball, I know, but it gets the point across: Government subsidies and “help out” programs are mirrored in the church (or the other way around…). While a nice comfort-food-for-thought, this is not the end to the argument though. Lani mentioned markets and tort reform, and this is the bottom line: Governments are necessary and ordained by God, but individual rights and agency are ordained much much higher.

    Take government involvement in the health insurance industry. Health insurance is expensive, hundreds of dollars a month for many families, but is only expensive because of two or three simple things (the number can fluctuate ever-so-slightly based on the area you live in and the laws you are under):

    1) Hospitals and doctors are expensive. School to train doctors, nurses and researchers is expensive. Powerful tools are expensive. Physical health care and recovery are expensive, but health is not a God-given right. That is harsh, but it is true.

    2) Insurance companies are companies. They need to make money. Behind every declined request is a house payment or a food bill for an employee (your arguments about “gold parachutes” are addressed in number 3), and that is how it should be. Otherwise there would be no insurance companies and all the risk associated with footing the bill for all health expenses would land on everyday people.

    3) Markets are closed. This is the problem. This is what needs fixed. You cannot buy Utah insurance in Hawaii. You cannot buy insurance from Canada in Utah. Markets are closed. Shopping between hospitals and doctors is closed. Laws that supposedly protect from large insurance companies taking over, really just limit the number of competitors in the market and allow massive conglomerates to restrict the access available to insurance consumers. Doctors and hospitals also run into this. Laws restrict where latest-and-greatest inventions, advances and ideas can be shipped around.

    There is more to it, but it really comes down to one more point; something that Carolyn and Lani both addressed: “1st world” poverty is “3rd world” luxury. The way I see it many people in deprived countries see it way more clearly and therefore have the advantage over “us.” Having a TV, cable, a cell phone or two, a car, and a laptop is simply more important to some people than having health care. That is ridiculous! But it is only caused by the ease of access to health care. Yes it would be expensive for someone who is not insured to have a medical emergency, but that is what credit is for, right? That would never fly, not with anyone, but with everyone having backup insurance from the government, it does not sound so bad. If you had knowledge that the only person that could possibly help you is yourself, or maybe your family, you would prioritize better. If the church provided help to you, but made it clear that it was not something that is automatic, or legally bound to happen, providence for another would hold more respect.

    I have rambled on, but here is the point. Entitlement is not evil, it is simply not good. Having air to breath and life in your veins is, as I believe, a constant gift from God, so I am being given an entitlement, but on top of that is incentive, agency, freedom, markets, “do not feed the bears, they will become dependent on humans and stop hunting,” arguments, and hard work. Industry, not dependency was the basis behind Zion last I checked.

    (Just a disclaimer as much for myself as for whoever reads this: I know that opinions on the Internet are seldom read, and even less seldom taken seriously. I also know that this is not a complete argument, there is no such thing. I only ask that it be taken as true to the best of my ability. I believe we all want the same ends, but are confused about the means.)

    Anyway, that is my two cents,


    (You can come burn out my car and ask for my dis-fellowship later, but be nice to your computer, those things are expensive.)

  14. Jerry Anderson says:

    I think we can ALL pretty much agree on the problems and the sad state of our nation/people. We only argue about the proper solution(s). Never lose track of the fact that the war in Heaven WASN’T about the goal – Satan wanted every single one of Fathers children to partake of the Celestial Kingdom. His plan was to remove the possibility of sinning. In essence, he wanted to FORCE us to be righteous.

    Same problem here on “entitlements” & other gov’t programs. Our $$ is taken & redistributed by the FORCE of gov’t. The Church can only spend what we freely & voluntarily give.

    Gov’t welfare/redistribution schemes rob us of our agency. God cannot bless me for righteousness and generosity OR condemn me for selfishness and penury. I have NO choice in the matter.

    Concerning the problems of medical care, poverty, immorality, etc. etc. Most of them were CREATED by gov’t interference. In fact, I’ll restate a challenge that I’ve been issuing for over 30 years; Cite me ONE social ill that hasn’t been either created or made worse by a gov’t program, and I’ll buy you a steak dinner! (Curing a ten cent problem while creating a ten dollar problem doesn’t qualify- has to be a net gain for society)

    For you vegans, I’ll stake you to a plate of turnips & rutabagas – or something you like!

    In 30± years, nobody has ever collected.

    You didn’t buy into Satan’s plan in the pre-mortal life, please don’t fall for it now!

    1. carriem says:

      Wide spread illiteracy in the 19th century–public schools.

      Almost universal poverty among the elderly in the 1930s–Social Security.

      If you think that unrestricted free markets are so great, try the third world where warlords rule. No government regulations, no taxes. It is practically paradise.

    2. Rick says:

      Jerry Anderson ignores the fact that freedom depends on social conditions. Were the 11million unemployed in the 1930s free to work? Are the millions of unemployed in capitalist Haiti free to work?

    3. Rick says:

      While examples can be found of government contributing to problems, it is clear that capitalism can have plenty of problems without government. Study the 1800s before there was a Fed. I have yet to find anyone who holds your views who does not ignore the historical factors of capitalism. If you examine the models used by J.B. Say, Bastiat, and modern microeconomics, it assumes we have a barter economy.
      To explore the differences between a barter economy and a capitalist economy see the work of Steve Keen.

  15. xenawarriorscientist says:

    Would love the citation for Brigham Young’s quote. When/where?

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