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The decadence of entitlement

By Everald Compton - posted Wednesday, 11 July 2012


SPEAKING at the Prime Minister’s Economic Summit in Brisbane in June, Reserve Bank Governor, Glen Stevens, told 150 business leaders that Australia’s economy is one of the strongest in the world, and yet Australians are overwhelmingly unhappy with their lot in life.

He found it somewhat of a puzzle that this state of mind exists when most Greeks and Spaniards would gladly leave their homeland right now and come to live with us.

Nevertheless, he accepted that the voters were angry and acknowledged that this was a problem for politicians to deal with.

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I chatted with other delegates about this strange attitude, and there was a general consensus that Australia has reached a point in its history where most of our citizens feel that we are entitled to be more prosperous than anyone else in the world and, indeed, have a right to expect even greater affluence than we enjoy now.

This disturbing viewpoint carries a genuine threat to our future as a nation as it has the potential to lead us down the same pathway as that which caused the fall of the old Roman Empire of the Caesars (and many subsequent empires also). The Romans came to the belief that every one of them had earned the right to a good life, as this was the undisputed entitlement of those who dominated the world. They were asleep at the wheel when their poorer neighbours conquered them.

How do we cure this decadent national illness when too many of us spend our days worrying obsessively that the carbon and mining taxes may downgrade our lifestyle and that governments, banks and traders are ripping us off, not to mention the fact that we are also prone to avoiding responsibility for our actions and spending our time suing others for every mishap that comes our way because we could not possibly be at fault? If we decide to change, it will be only with great reluctance, totally ignoring the obvious fact that entitlement is a curse that must be removed before it becomes a cancer.

Perhaps the cure can be achieved quite happily by spending more of our time looking for opportunities that will sustain our lifestyle by our own personal efforts rather than looking for people to blame for the economic dangers that we see around us.

For instance, in one of the areas in which I have some experience - the ageing of the nation - there are significant opportunities for the private sector to provide services that no-one is taking up at present, such as clothing that is especially designed to suit older people and housing that is suitable for those seniors who do not want to go into a retirement village, but who need age-friendly design and helpful technology.

There are also profits to be made by designing and organising recreational programs for Seniors that are much more creative and mentally stimulating than bus trips and bingo games. And those are just the most obvious ones.

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There are dozens more opportunities to serve the ignored seniors lifestyle as well as the ever-changing requirements of other age groups. Making money out of those niche markets will do more for Australia than weeping about the carbon tax and the perils of minority governments.

Be this as it may, our nation-destroying culture of entitlement will take time to eliminate, particularly as we all enjoy the entitlements that we now have - and I am no exception to this.

But, we must accept that the only rights to which we have a legitimate entitlement are a job, a home, a school, a hospital, a police station, and a democratically-elected government whose prime responsibility is to create a level playing field. On all other matters, we should look after ourselves and stop blaming governments when we get into trouble.

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About the Author

Everald Compton is Chairman of The Longevity Forum, a not for profit entity which is implementing The Blueprint for an Ageing Australia. He was a Founding Director of National Seniors Australia and served as its Chairman for 25 years. Subsequently , he was Chairman for three years of the Federal Government's Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing.

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