Sunday, October 25, 2009

What Shall We Call the New Society?

Dr. Peter Breggin M.D.

Dr. Peter Breggin M.D. is a psychiatrist who offers interesting insights into the interconnected nexus of political, economic, philosophical, psychological and spiritual life in the United States.

To here an audio recording of this essay, click here:

What Shall We Call the New Society?

Peter R. Breggin, M.D.

January 26, 2009

This is Dr. Peter Breggin. I am a psychiatrist and I want to help you to “Live Like an American!”

Today’s Subject: What shall we call the new society?

What name shall we give to the new society that’s being fashioned before our eyes by the so-called stimulus packages and bills? There has been a growing concern in recent decades about creating an Entitlement Society. I think we are becoming something much more deadly. We need a new name for it.

The Founding Fathers wanted to build a society where people have the opportunity to take charge of their lives and to pursue their own goals. Government would protect the freedom of individuals but offer no guarantee of their economic safety, security, or success. We began as a Responsibility Society.

Gradually the Responsibility Society has been eaten away by the Entitlement Society. People no longer have to compete—and to take the consequences. Now they have the right to be provided for—to be given certain benefits without being required to earn them through responsibility and hard work.

Various forms of welfare are probably the most obvious entitlements. Healthcare and even housing are now becoming entitlements.

Other government programs were originally presented as forms of insurance, such as unemployment insurance and social security—but they have also been transformed into entitlements. Future generations will pick up the bill in what has been called fiscal generation abuse.

Altruism, charity, fairness and perhaps even economic stability call for some means of helping people who are having difficulty providing the necessities of life. But as helpful and even necessary as some of these entitlements have become, there’s also an unintended effect—a problem—with them. Whenever people receive money for an activity, any kind of activity, the money rewards that activity.

Rewards reinforce or encourage behaviors. An otherwise dumb animal will learn an elaborate pattern of tapping on a button in response to receiving food pellets. Human beings have more volition or choice but in general they tend to behave in ways that lead to their being rewarded.

In contrast to reward, punishment tends to discourage or to stop the behaviors that led up to it.

This is psychology 101—and common sense. Reward responsibility and people will grow more responsible and succeed more often; reward irresponsibility and people will grow more irresponsible and become more likely to fail.

Like many of us, President Obama recently expressed outrage that executives in bailed out companies were taking huge bonuses for themselves? But why not? We are rewarding the companies that they have driven into the ground, so why wouldn’t we want to reward them as well? Why wouldn’t they be expected to be rewarded, no matter what?

Forty percent of American’s do not earn enough to pay taxes, and they will be benefiting from so-called tax breaks that spread the wealth to them. We are about to give a massive reward to people for not paying taxes. It won’t be long before 50% of Americans aren’t paying their taxes. After that, the sky’s the limit.

The current situation is much worse than simply rewarding failure. It’s a double whammy. We are also punishing successful people and institutions by withholding financial rewards from them and by taking money away from them in the form of higher taxes. Reward failure; punish success—it’s a prescription for societal disaster.

The homebuyer who pays his mortgage is now financially handicapped in comparison to the one who does not. The company that stays afloat on its own is now handicapped compared to the one that is sinking.

It’s as if the owner of a sports team started paying the largest salaries and bonuses to his worst and most irresponsible players, while cutting the benefits for the best and most hardworking players. One season would suffice to destroy his team and drive away its fans.

How long can a society prosper when it rewards failure and punishes success? In a mood of anger and frustration, President Obama told us that this is not the time for companies to be seeking big profits. But profits are the engine of the free market and hence the engine of progress. People making profits are the only people who can bring us out of the mess we’re in. Instead, President Obama’s programs are rewarding those who cannot make a profit and discouraging those who can.

Helping the unfortunate—those who have fallen onto hard times through no fault of their own—has become a good idea gone wild. It now threatens the integrity of our nation. It is an American tragedy. We must not let it happen.

America has moved from a Responsibility Society to an Entitlement Society, and now is well on its way to becoming a Failure Society. That’s the name for our new era—the Failure Society.

We must not let this continue to happen. Before it’s too late, we must stand up for our nation’s founding values of freedom and responsibility. The time is now. We must stop the government from rewarding failure and punishing success.

That brings us to what I call The Primary Principles—the refrain of my weekly report:

Protect freedom

Take responsibility at all times

Express gratitude for all your gifts and opportunities

Become a source of love

This is Dr. Peter Breggin urging you to “Live Like an American!” You can listen to all of these reports and obtain transcripts at

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