The Barney Generation
One of the hallmarks of a civilized society is how they treat their less fortunate members. From the earliest days of American society we have tried to meet that noble goal. There has always been an unspoken understanding that ‘Society should provide the less fortunate with their basic needs’. This goal is correct and proper and I strongly support the basic premise.
However over the years the meaning of those words have gone through many changes, usually much needed ones but also often controversial ones.
For example the term ‘society’ has changed dramatically in the past couple of centuries. At one point it meant mostly the private sector. Families, religious groups, private charities and the like were expected to help those in need. Sometimes local government might become involved but that was about it.
Then we saw the growth of the welfare state and the increasing role of the federal government and the decline of the religious and private charity groups. Today they exist in a balance, with most people agreeing that they should share responsibility (though still debating to what degree each side should be involved).
The term provide has also changed, at one point it was assumed that you would provide the needy with the means to obtain their needs (IE work) while today it has evolved to something of a mix, with some people advocating that everyone should work for their needs while others suggesting that to require any work is wrong.
The term ‘the less fortunate’ has perhaps taken the broadest path of change over the years. At one point racial, religious and ethnic prejudices led to limitations on who was helped. Often moderately needy people would get aid while truly needy ones would be ignored.
Even the term ‘their basic needs’ has gone through a number of changes. If you were to visit a welfare agency at the start of the 20th century they would consider a bed, some clothes and some food to be pretty much all anyone needed to survive.
Today most people look to items like telephone service, television, etc as fairly basic needs. Again, there is considerable debate over how far the change should go but the basic idea that more than food/clothing/shelter is needed is a pretty common assumption.
However in all of the years of evolution there is one thing that has never happened before. People have never sought to remove words from the statement…… but that may be changing. For the first time I am seeing signs that people would like to remove the term ‘the less fortunate’ and require society to provide everyone with their needs.
I first saw signs of this when I began to talk with younger people who came in to my office to discuss their financial needs. Time and time again they talked about how ‘government should provide’ them with the money needed for everything they wanted in life.
I am not talking about just a basic place to live but rather a home as luxurious as they wanted. My parents worked hard to provide my sister and I with a house of about 1500 square feet, which was considered fairly nice by the standards of the day.
Today people expect homes of twice that size and don’t care if they cannot afford it. I have seriously had bankruptcy clients expect that they could erase their mortgages and car loans completely but still keep the property.
I have also seen this is some of my younger friends who expect to be able to buy any car, take any trip and get anything they want right now. Their logic is that someone else has it so they should get it too.
I consider these things to be signs of the Barney effect. These people I mention have been raised with the idea that everybody should be equal, everything should be fair. If you play a game there should not be a score kept because somebody might lose. If you have a competition at school then everybody ought to get a prize.
It is thus hardly surprising that these people now expect that they should be given everything they want or need as an adult. Of course there are many very hard working members of the Barney generation and hopefully they will overcome this trend.
If they do, then there can be much to gain from a generation whose desire to achieve is tempered with a sense of fair play.
If they do not, then we will continue on our trend towards a society where the many depend on the few, and that can never last.