On Romney’s 47%, Enterprise and Entitlements


Was it enterprise or a sense of entitlement that led my grandmother to bribe officials to run the school bus all the way out to the farms?

As Mitt Romney has stirred the waters with his allegation that 47% of America is dependent on government entitlements, I think of a couple women whose stories mix enterprise and entitlement in confounding ways.

First, my grandmother. A farm wife and former school teacher, she found it frustrating that town officials were unwilling to run school buses the five miles from the high school to where her family lived. It mattered to her that her children should be properly educated.

But as a farm wife during WWII, she had resources that town officials wanted. Her cow allowed her to make butter. They were limited to the oleomargarine that was permitted by the war effort: a paper-wrapped packet of white, lard-like fat that came with a separate package of yellow coloring, to be mixed in by the lady of the house.

So Grammie began delivering weekly supplies of butter to the School Committee. And it wasn’t long before her enterprise was rewarded with the entitlement she sought: the same access to school transportation that kids in nearer, less impoverished neighborhoods received.

I think also of a girl I knew in a nearby city. Her mother worked in, shall we say, a very old profession. And by the age of 8, her daughter was proudly displaying her own website, which her mother had helped her develop. The mom was discouraging the girl in spending  time at a nearby nonprofit that was helping her improve her reading. The mother did not consider reading a necessary skill for a girl. But development of a sadly inappropriate website was utterly important.

When I described this household to a lay leader in a local Christian church, his response surprised me. He nodded in approval:

“At least the mother’s an entrepreneur. She’s not living off the government.”

Don’t get me wrong. I know that God condemns laziness. But God also does not recommend certain lines of work or ways of doing our work.

So what does it mean that my Grandmother used her enterprise and resources to bribe officials to gain fair treatment? I think it describes unfair distribution of entitlements: in this case, school transportation. It also describes officials who did not know how God describes their jobs. (“Appoint judges and officials … and they shall judge the people fairly. … Do not accept a bribe …” Deuteronomy 16: 18-19)

And what does it mean that a Christian church leader would recommend training a child as a prostitute over teaching a child to read? I don’t really want to consider that. (“Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute, or the land will turn to prostitution and be filled with wickedness.” Leviticus 19:29)

Are we too dependent on entitlements? Which ones? Public education? Mortgage tax deductions? VA health care for returning war veterans?

Where do you think we should draw the line?

About Carlene Byron

Writer, editor, publicist, communications project manager ... I've written technology and infrastructure; I used to edit New England Church Life and The New England Christian and I've freelanced to publications ranging from Commonweal to Christianity Today. I'm now living in my hometown in Maine and am speaking about global perspectives on suicide prevention.
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