Our Moocher Mentality
Sykes spoke to the Trib about his new book, "A Nation of Moochers," which raises the question of whether America has reached a point in which more people are dependent on others rather than on their own efforts.
Q: Your book details a deep division in the country, but it's not one between rich and poor, is it?
A: No. I think the real division is between the makers and takers, the people who rely on themselves and the people who are looking to feed at the public trough. I think a lot of the political division in the country stems from the fact that the rules are being changed in a way that hardworking Americans find fundamentally unfair.
By a number of different metrics, we have a record number of people who are now dependent on the government, post-(Great Depression). At the same time, you have a growing number of people who pay nothing to the government in federal taxes. We've really become a nation of people who show up at the potluck dinner but bring nothing of their own to the table.
Q: Should the middle class be particularly offended over the mooching?
A: Yes. (The book is) also very, very critical of the Wall Street bailouts and the corporate cronyism. You've had the recklessness of Wall Street on one end, and on the other end you have the entitlement culture, and the middle class is looking around and going, "We end up picking up the bill for everybody. We're the ones who go to work every day to try to pay the mortgage and put our kids through college (because) we were told this is the way America works. It turns out we're the piggy bank."
Q: Do you feel this problem is being mentioned sufficiently in the presidential campaign?
A: Quite frankly, I wish the candidates would be more explicit about it. While the president wants to make this about the rich versus the poor, the 1 percent versus the 99 percent, I think the middle class sees this as a pivotal moment between the makers and the takers. Are we going to be a country that rewards people who play by the rules -- you know, the people who work hard, who buy houses, who invest in their 401(k)? Or are we going to reach a point where the people who do play by the rules begin to think that (they're) suckers, that (they) are piggy banks for the irresponsible, the grasping, the greedy?
Q: How do you curb the culture of mooching?
A: That's the $64 trillion question. What's obvious is you have a lot of people addicted to OPM, other people's money. And politicians have realized they can buy votes with other people's money. When you reach a point where a majority of the electorate realizes their future is dependent on politicians who will give them other people's money, it's very difficult to turn that around and curb it.
We need to quite frankly decide what kind of a country and what kind of a people we're going to be. This tipping point is not just economic and it's not just political; it's also moral and cultural. Do we really want a country where people have their hands out, as opposed to a country where people are independent and pursuers of their own destinies?