Money, $, Money: Opportunity vs. Entitlement

Noting that this year’s Republican nomination process has drawn to a close (perhaps from reading The Pickle), The Detroit Opportunity Project responded to yesterday’s request to “go deeper” and find something “more interesting” to discuss.  Bradford Frost of the Detroit Opportunity Project has been endorsed on the Pickle before and took my challenge to heart.  Today he published a fascinating piece about the dichotomy forming in the upcoming Presidential elections.  The distinction between entitlements and opportunity cuts to the core of both candidates, both parties and all Americans.  Granted, “entitlement society” is the derogatory name Romney has given Obama’s vision.  Obama is likely to see his vision of government investment in equal opportunity as the “opportunity society” and to see Romney’s as the “advantaged society.”

You gotta have money to make money, right?

Well, turns out, not so much.  You can invent, create, innovate and even borrow in order to join the opportunity class at the top rungs of society.  So, what’s government’s role in that process?

Once again we encounter a “pickle.”

On one hand, we’re all raised with what Frost calls “the bootstrapping” ethic.  Every man, woman and child for themselves.  If you work harder and/or smarter, you’ll make your fortune.  It’s 2012 and we’re still somewhere between the free market and the wild west when it comes to personal responsibility over our own opportunities.

On the other hand, since at least the Great Depression and probably before that, the government has played a crucial role in quality of life.  Regardless of what political science majors and libertarian Presidential candidates believe, the government is part of almost every major industry and all aspects of our lives.  It’s here.  Romney argues “not for long.” Obama has more a change from within approach.  Government is involved and we have to decide whether we’re ok with that and if so, how much?

It’s a pickle.  The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.  Especially as the party loyalists on both sides of the aisle become more ensconced in their worldviews.

According to Frost, we’re about to watch this debate play out on a national stage.  The Pickle says “it’s about time.”  But I’m also a little skeptical.  If this election will help decide how Americans view their government, we still have a participation problem.  First, will it be ok if only 60% of registered voters vote in this election?  Second, if so, then it’s likely that between 48-51% of the vote will be enough to win.  If that happens, then 30% of registered voters will have made a statement about the future of American opportunity and the American Dream.  Is that enough to mark a cultural or political shift?

It seems like the wealth gap between rich and poor which is implicated in this discussion regarding entitlement vs. opportunity is also joined by a widening gap between participants and non-participants in the political process.  Even as the government becomes more involved in our industries and tax returns, fewer Americans a). participate and b). believe in government/politicians/public policy. That’s a pickle that no election will solve.

Bottom line:  I agree with Frost’s “The Dream Is Burning” post that we’re in the midst of a critical debate on opportunity in America.  What does it mean to chase the American Dream?  What are we incentivizing and what are we subsidizing? Once we find out, then we must decide, do we agree? Romney says no.  Obama says “for the most part” and is prepared to take it to the next level.

We’re at a crossroads of ideology and we’re looking for a solution.  I’m ready to vote for a problem-solver.  In 2008, Obama was the clear “problem-solver.”  In 2012, we’re about to find out.

Please read “The Dream Is Burning” post at http://detroitopportunityproject.com/.  Let’s keep this discussion going and get to the bottom of Opportunity in American in the 21st Century.

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