Etched deep into the DNA of the Anglo-Saxon diaspora is a boundless sense of economic entitlement. Such has consistently been the world’s criticism of the west for months now. Some argue that in societies where punishment is worst outcome, entitlement is the natural order of things.
“In America, you do what you can get away with.” This was how Anders Aslund, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, described the United States’ footloose attitude toward getting ahead in a free market.
Aslund has been charting Norway’s great success in withstanding the recession through a robust social welfare system and the Norwegians’ learned “sense of virtue,” something he describes as the guiding principle in his countrymen’s economic actions. Driven by virtue, overspending and going into debt are seen as actions that drainthe wealth of future generations.
Not acting with an eye toward the future will not lead to prison sentences or fines in Norway but rather a more defeating measure of guilt that in the Nordic countries, Aslund says, is the worst outcome for an individual who makes poor economic choices.
In countries overly familiar with punishment–Aslund mentioned the U.S. and Russia leading the pack–an individual will not feel guilty—they will only fear, and attempt to evade, the long arm of the law.
Aslund says it’s commonly imagined that in societies with generous social welfare that entitlement is rife, but he counters that entitlement is a product of a society that does not have, or has lost, the internal emotional checks and balances that makes guilt an unsavory prospect.
If Aslund is right, how can the entitled achieve some sense of propriety in their economic and emotional existence? Aslund says it’s impossible, but perhaps there are some clues in Daniel Goleman’s description of emotional intelligence.