This is a story about one self-responsibility, and two entitlements. There are two main views on the cause of poverty in North America. One view identifies the challenge as systemic and the other as personal. Personal responsibility is the libertarian worldview. Self-responsibility is about taking responsibility for our own existence we implicitly recognize that other human beings are not our servants and do not exist for the satisfaction of our needs. At the individual level the causes of poverty include family breakdown, drug addiction, poor work habits enabled by government support programs. The systemic view considers situations at the structural understanding of poverty that includes changes to the economy such as underemployment, dead end jobs, accelerated by the last thirty years of realities of the global age. Eliminating the systemic causes would dramatically reduce, but not eliminate the personal causes.
The response to systemic problems can be addressed with minimum wage legislation, union organization and government support programs often grouped under the name entitlements. The other, self-responsibility, hinges on personal responsibility, taking responsibility for the consequences of your choices. Self-esteem has an important role in this.
True self-esteem is associated with as self-responsibility, self-sufficiency and the knowledge of one’s own competence and capability to deal with obstacles and adversity. The libertarians turned to the objectivists for ideas on self-esteem, who in turn applied Aristotle’s teachings. Aristotle believed that moral virtues are acquired by habit, such as acting justly. Virtues, Aristotle believed, are excellences of character achieved by seeking the middle way, not extremes of action or feeling. Virtues enable the individual to achieve the good life or ‘happiness’. This happiness, properly understood, requires ethically virtuous activity. In turn, virtue manifests itself in action, leading to happiness. For Aristotle this included being all you can to fulfill your potential, and live in a way that reaches your full potential. To achieve this, self-love was necessary. Aristotle described two types of self-love. For him, self-love is a proper emotion provided it is expressed in the love of virtue and is valuable. Being noble and good promotes the good of the community.
The second self-love identified by Aristotle was the dangerous self-love in which the individual’s actions assigned material advantage and pleasure which become objects of competition. This includes the selfishness driven by individualism, where there is no evident benefit for oneself in helping others. Self-serving pursuits do not create self-esteem. With this type of self-esteem there are problems of self-tolerance, entitlement and narcissism. Narcissism is an excessive form of self-love that leads to a sense of entitlement and selfish world-view. This narcissist believes that rules do not apply to them and they deserve special treatment. This person demands automatic and full compliance with his/her expectations.
Managers in the financial services industry came through the cult of self-esteem, they learned to tolerate the errors and flaws in their actions, which lead to a sense of entitlement. The sense of entitlement is at the root of the decline in standards. The fund managers were enraged when President Obama insisted on limits on remuneration and bonuses to managers of Wall Street financial services industry, who had just been bailed out with taxpayers’ dollars.
The conservative libertarians have framed self-sufficiency well, however, they tolerate two types of self-esteem. One is the narcissistic individual with a sense of personal entitlement and extreme self-esteem, concerned about himself and short-term gain, who manipulated the leveraged market creating every opportunity to make money. The other self-esteem, of course, supports the self-responsibility that forms the basis for poor people learning how to earn money in order to get off taxpayers’ sponsored entitlements.