The American Welfare System, like all other government social programs, is a bad idea gotten worse. It may be different if we lived in a utopian society where greed, dishonesty, and unscrupulous conduct were unheard of and the work ethic, respect for the property of others, and regard for our fellow man was universal; but we do not. What was originally designed to be a safety net for all has become: (1) a hammock for some, (2) an anchor for others, (3) a political power base for still others, and (4) suffers from inefficient and inept management. Welfare has come to be thought of as a right (which it is not) to be demanded from the government, instead of a gift from fellow Americans (which it is) to be gratefully received and judiciously used. The reality of the welfare system in this country is tragic. It has victimized us all: giver, receiver, and government alike. None have gone unscathed. To understand the tragedy, we must look beyond the scandals and headlines to the birth of our form of government and our founding documents.
First and foremost, we must realize that by its very nature, our government manufactures absolutely nothing. The government gets all of its money from its citizens, although not all contribute. When the government takes money from its citizens it incurs a grave responsibility for the careful management and spending thereof -- the government becomes guardian of the public trust. That being the case, there is one single commitment the government must make if America is to survive and remain strong, and that is that the government must get tangible goods or services for each dollar spent. Welfare programs provide neither of these. It has been historically proven time and again that it is absolutely vital that a government, any government, must stay out of the social and financial business of its citizens. Failure to do so inevitably results in taking the slippery path to socialism that has ultimately destroyed almost every other culture (Watt 63-76). The fates of the major socialist governments of this century should be a warning to all of us. The USSR has collapsed, Cuba does not appear to be long following, and the Chinese are quickly relaxing their socialist ideology in the southern provinces near Hong Kong and are switching to a more capitalist mode of operation. The Chinese are not changing because they want to, but because they can see the future of their current ideology. It is not likely that the Russians, the Cubans, or the Chinese will fully embrace democracy in the next century, but it is likely that America, on its current path, will become far more socialistic in the next two decades. It will happen because we have lost touch with our founding principles and documents.
It may come as a revelation to some and a shock to others, but a minimum standard of living for American citizens is neither guaranteed, mandated, nor even mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights. Promoting the "general welfare" is mentioned in the Constitution, but has absolutely nothing to do with redistributing wealth from one group of Americans to another. It does have to do with the Postal Service and interstate highway systems (post roads), regulating the use of public airways and airspace, coining money and regulating its value, fixing standard weights and measures, managing emigration and trade, and making foreign policy; all of which benefit all Americans (Constitution Sect. 8). There is nothing in either of our founding documents that singles out any minority of any kind for special treatment or empowers the government to become a social or benevolent organization. Our Constitution goes to great length to stress equality under the law and in responsibility for governing this country. Nowhere does it guarantee equality in lifestyle. "A car in every garage and a chicken in every pot" may be desirable, but it is only political rhetoric. What is guaranteed is equal opportunity and freedom from governmental intrusion, both in our private and business lives.
Some of our citizens have decided that they desire little from life except perpetual economic security. They have also discovered that our benevolent government will "freely" provide that security for them with little or no effort on their part. These citizens have found a hammock to rest in for the remainder of their lives at the expense of their fellow citizens. These people have become professional beggars. Orien Johnson makes no distinction between those who beg in the streets and those perpetually on relief rolls (233). The similarity is striking. These sentiments are echoed by Hans Sennholz (457). But there is a high price to be paid for this "free" economic security that our government dispenses, and that price is the loss of hope, initiative, self-respect, and moral values. This was most graphically described by Earle and Ann Shelby in "Why The Dole Doesn't Work." In that article, they describe a woman, her mother, and grandmother in a courtroom testifying against a man who had impregnated all three of them. While being pregnant by the same man was a common thread in this tragedy, they also identified another; all three were supported by welfare and welfare would support their children (Shealy 441). That would mean four generations in the same family that have made no effort toward economic independence -- four generations! In that same article, the Shelbys reveal that welfare feeds one out of every sixteen New York residents and they cite a witness for a legislative investigation as describing the "welfare jungles" as "clusters of hopeless, demoralized people reduced to total dependence on the relief check" (442). Cecil Moore, a Negro lawyer and head of the NAACP in Philadelphia, is quoted by the Shelbys as saying, "Go down into the area of my city where most of the relief people live. Hardly anyone there has pride in himself. That's what public assistance has done for them. To me, relief is a self-perpetuating degradation, the worst thing that could have happened to my race" (446). Mr. Moore is correct except it is not a race issue. This is America, all ethnic groups suffer equally from "free" government assistance; all must give up a significant measure of their freedom for the "free" economic security. In his essay titled "Morals and the Welfare State", F. A. Harper is of the opinion that slavery could be described as another form of the Welfare State "because of its likeness in restrictions and 'benefits'" (492). This loss of freedom does not stop with the relief recipients, it extends to those who must pay for the "free" benefits.
As I said earlier, our government is not a money making organization. It depends on taxpayers for its sole support. Harper put it very succinctly when he said, "Persons produce everything which the Welfare State takes before it gives some back as benefits. . . . Only by thus confiscating what persons have produced can the Welfare State 'satisfy the needs of the people'" (442). As more recipients are added to the welfare rolls and benefits expand to raise the living standard of the indigent and indolent, the percentage of a taxpayer's earnings required to support them also increases, with a commensurate decrease in the taxpayer's living standard. This greatly hinders the average American's ability to provide for himself and his family both now and in his plans for future economic security. I have to agree with William Chamberlain's statement that, "It may seem humane and benevolent to provide free medical care to the aged by taxing the general population. But a more realistic form of benevolence would be to leave people in their productive years enough of their earnings so that they could save for medical care and other emergencies" (467). The tax burden placed on working Americans is essentially an anchor that must be dragged along as they struggle toward a better lifestyle and economic security in their old age. Worse yet, the burden, due to its size, often prevents any progress in that direction, and many working Americans find themselves no better off one year from the last.
There is the hidden burden of violence that not only affects taxpayers but all Americans. Francis Mahaffy raises an interesting issue concerning the connection between socialistic policies (welfare) and violence in society in general. He states, "The causes of violence often lie in the philosophy of compulsion that characterizes all types of socialism. And because socialism invites violence, it flaunts the moral law which restricts the use of force against others to the restraint of evil" (465). In a companion statement concerning taxation he says, "This legal plunder of property by the state is rooted in disrespect for life; for to seize property is to violate the life sustained by that property. Carried to its logical conclusions, the recipient of legal plunder assumes a right to the property and thus to the life of his better situated neighbor. When legal plunder becomes the accepted norm of everyday life, it is little wonder that more naked violence breaks out in our cities. The perpetrators of this violence have been taught through effective propaganda that they have the right to the fruits of the labor of others" (465). I believe there is a correlation. I am old enough to remember life in the very early Sixties and I remember a country where unlocked doors were common and any violent crime a national horror. Today, most people cannot fit enough locks and bars on their homes to guarantee safety and violent crime has become so prevalent it is now just a meaningless statistic. It is a curious fact that welfare programs have kept pace with, or perhaps led, the rise in violent crime. Henry Hazlett reports that in 1961 there were 45 domestic welfare programs in existence and in 1968 there were 1,571; of those, 478 were in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare alone (181). This is 1992. I wonder what the total is now?
There is a burden of conscience also included in welfare programs that generates a moral dilemma for both the recipient and the government. In the report by Earle and Ann Shelby, they describe the following situation, "In Chicago, we talked to a reliefer whose pay with a railroad gang had been $220 a month. When he lost his job, with a wife and 10 children to feed, he received $495 monthly in relief. This sum is now fixed as the family's scale of living. No matter what job the man takes, any wage less than $495 will be supplemented by welfare. Thus ADC becomes essentially a guarantee of annual minimum wage" (444). What a dilemma! With 10 children and a wife, why should a man work and not spend time with his family now that he can, particularly if they are living better than twice as good as before? I can't think of any logical reason. The Shelbys add, "What, then, should we tell employed workers, also with large families, who pay taxes to support their dependent neighbors who are living at a higher level than their own" (444)? I have no answer for them. Life is not fair, but this seems to be a criminal disregard for taxpayers on the part of government.
The Power Base.
Speaking of the government's part in this, the government must bear the vast majority of the blame for this situation. To dispel the myth that government is only responding to public demands in providing all of the social and economic programs in its vast inventory, I offer the following excerpt from Emerson Schmidt's essay "The Public Demands." This comment was made by the secretary of the Health, Education, and Welfare Department in a bitter address before the American Council on Education in October 1961 and printed in the Washington Post, Oct. 6. "In great disgust he cast aside his manuscript and lectured and scolded his audience for not coming to the rescue of educational subsidies via the U.S. Treasury. 'Mail urging Congress to do something for education was infinitesimal. There was a great void, a great silence'" (404). The Department of Agriculture fared no better. Schmidt includes the following tidbit by Ezra Taft Benson, the secretary of Agriculture for 8 years in the 1950's. "I had evidence that an overwhelming majority of the farmers favored programs that would provide them with greater freedom and less government regulation and control . . . I had little pressure from farmers for legislation involving attempts on production control and price fixing " (404). There is no reason to believe that public clamor for welfare programs differ from the foregoing examples at all. Schmidt sums it up rather well in the following quote. "'The public demands more government spending, more programs, and more services . . . ' is widely advanced as the reason for rising taxes, swelling bureaucracy, and the accretion of political power in Washington. 'We must educate the public to demand less . . .' is said to be the remedy.'. . . Indeed, it would be more accurate to say that the general public never makes any demands on the public purse -- with possibly one exception; only under extreme provocation or when the economic position of the public is abruptly and materially altered as in a major disaster or depression" (401). If the public isn't demanding the programs, the government expansion, or the political power they entail, who is?
Who indeed! Perhaps this snippet written by Leonard Read will shed some light on the "who". "Aladdin's jinni performed only on call; it responded to wishes when requested. The modern American version, on the other hand, displays zealous initiative in that it: (1) invents wishes for people; (2) persuades people that these wishes are their own and then actively solicits their gratification; (3) convinces people these wishes are among their natural rights, and (4) casts itself in the role of helper. Mythology in its heyday never came up with a jinni to equal this" (Read 419). If it isn't clear yet, this comment by Lois Sargent should remove all doubt. "As promulgated today, the aspect of security most frequently relates to economic conditions and the psychological effects of financial well-being or want. . . . The power hungry men who wish to build an all powerful government deliberately arouse fear of insecurity and sell their programs under the guise of immutable security" (Sargent 432). If we are surprised that our Congressmen and women are the architects of this national disaster and the massive federal bureaucracy are the builders, then we need to get our heads out of the sand and take a look around. We need to heed the words of Woodrow Wilson, "The history of freedom is the history of limitations of government power, not the increase of it (Speech, New York, Sept. 9, 1912)."
It was nowhere in the minds of our founding fathers to provide public money to those who had not earned it. Many who signed the Declaration of Independence feared just that. Thomas Jefferson warned that this country would remain great only as long as its citizens didn't find their way to the public trough. Sadly, not only have many found their way there, the government, in its desire to expand and control, is actively leading them there and is bent on keeping them there. To expand its power base and control, the government begins conditioning our children at an early age to be dependent on it with free school breakfast and lunch programs. This is followed by tuition aid, federal education grants, and student loans. These last three are very perplexing as many non-governmental scholarships go unused every year. It doesn't appear that government "help" is needed, but it is available with the inherent administrative costs to the American public. It is also disturbing that, only in the last few years, the government began to seriously require the repayment of student loans. This is indicative that the government is not the prudent manager nor fierce guardian of the public trust it would have us believe.
Feeding at the public trough may be somewhat tasty, but it is neither filling nor nourishing, and it totally destroys backbone, pride, and hope. Worse yet, it mistakenly places the act of benevolence on the government and elected officials rather than on the people that provide the gift. This error in perception also fosters a dangerous dependency on and an unhealthy loyalty to those officials in power. This is the reason many congressmen and congresswomen get reelected. To an unbelievably great degree, their continued status is purchased by every taxpayer in this country. Our politicians have discovered that they can buy votes with public money (taxes) through welfare programs.
We are Americans, the richest people on earth, we should be charitable, our government should be benevolent, our less fortunate citizens should be able to share in this great wealth. Should they? Should they really? If you work hard and earn enough money to buy a nice automobile, should you be forced to buy a lesser model due to being forced to donate to a charitable organization you do not subscribe to -- no? If you work hard and buy a house, should you be forced to permit me to live with you because I have no home -- no? If you work hard and earn a wage, should you be forced to give part of it to those who have decided not to work -- no? Irritating thoughts are they not? The irritant is the word forced. Should you have compassion for your fellow man and help him when in need? Yes, most assuredly. Would you help your fellow man when in need? The government obviously doesn't think so and it is not in its best interest for you to think so either, although the money raised by private organizations to support a plethora of worthy causes belies this. Can you tell when a person really needs help or is in a state of need due to an unwillingness to help himself? The government has decided that you cannot be trusted with that determination. Only the government, with its bewildering array of programs, bureaus, departments, and offices knows who needs help, what kind of help they need, and how much help they need--and how much of your earnings you will forfeit to provide that help. This is a far cry from "promote the general welfare" spelled out in the Preamble to the Constitution. What our government is promoting is not "the general welfare." What it is promoting is more and bigger and more powerful government at the expense of the freedom and economic survival of us all. I, for one, resent the government for robbing me of the pleasure of being as charitable as I would like to those causes I think worthy and support.
What does this cradle-to-the-grave care provided by government do to the fiber of this country? The effects are slow and insidious. As government has eased its way more and more into the lives of its citizens, there has been a slow, but, steady self-generated demand for more and more government involvement. People are being led to the public trough. When more children mean more money, children appear. When there is no need or responsibility to directly support families, fathers disappear. When children are not properly cared for, the state takes over and mothers disappear. When families disappear, then the whole fiber of this nation strains and breaks. At that point, the government becomes mother and father to us all and we become totally dependent on it -- then freedom disappears. This doesn't happen overnight and it doesn't happen because the American people are stupid or incompetent. It happens because the liberal government publicly shames those who have and seduces those who have not at the expense of the freedom of both. The middle man, the government, is the winner because it gains power and expands. Class envy was not a significant American trait until after the middle of this century. Admiration of, and aspiration to, a particular status was in vogue prior to that.
Inefficiency And Ineptitude.
Government should not be involved with social problems. It may also come as a shock to many that there is no mandate in any of our founding documents that requires the government to resolve social problems. The reason for that is that the government, by its very nature, is not designed or equipped to do that. When it tries, it fails miserably. It has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, over a long period of time, that it cannot effectively and efficiently deal with those issues. We should not require it (and I don't think we do). As a matter of fact, we should insist that government get out and stay out of social issues. If anyone thinks the government can deal with social issues, one look at our nation's Capitol will shatter that thought. Case in point, the Congress of the United States is, by Constitutional mandate, the sole legislative authority for the District of Columbia and, therefore, totally responsible for that district. If the government could resolve social issues, Washington, DC would be more than a pretty facade. The real structure of Washington, D.C. has been the subject of almost continuous newscasts, newspaper articles, and commentary in recent months. The truth is that all types of violent crime are rampant, with the per capita murder rate the highest, in the country. Illegal narcotics are readily available, prostitution flourishes, graft is a matter of public record, housing is poor, and unemployment is high. All this in a 10 mile square area that should be the epitome of what America is. It fills me with shame to think that foreign visitors and dignitaries decide who we are based on their impression of Washington, DC. If the Congress and its massive bureaucracy can't resolve the pressing social issues in a 10 square mile area, how can we expect it to deal with those issues on a national scale? It simply can't.
Another notable example of total government control and its resulting dismal and shameful failure is the treatment of Native Americans. There is not another country or people conquered by American forces in the history of this nation who have suffered as miserably as the American Indian. No other entity in this country has control over Indian affairs except the Federal Government's Bureau of Indian Affairs yet the state of the Indian Nations in many cases approaches that of third world countries. Edna Shaker states, "The 75-year result of all this bureaucratic domination and billions of dollars stands as eloquent testimony of the futility and debility incurred the 'state way'. American Indians have been maintained in a state of shocking poverty, ignorance, disease, and complete dependence. . . . The average life span is 45 years. Infant mortality rates are about three times as high as the average for all Americans. Death rates from preventable diseases such as gastroenteritis, influenza, pneumonia and tuberculosis run up to 8 times higher than the general population. It is clear that the federal government has not even been able to do a minimum job of sustaining health" (436).
Another graphic example of governmental inefficiency and ineptitude was reported by Douglas Kalajian, a staff writer for the Miami Herald. He reports that it takes 12 pages of forms to apply for public assistance in the Miami area. In addition to that, the relief worker must fill out an additional 13 page form that duplicates the majority of the information already provided by the applicant. The welfare recipient must fill out a 4 page form weekly and provide receipts for rent, pay stubs, canceled checks, and other personal documents to remain on relief. This is neither efficient nor effective program management. Being the guardian of the public trust, the government must, as a matter of image, self-interest and self-preservation, take care to ensure the general perception that public funds are used properly. This necessity generates a certain amount of paranoia on the part of the government due to the number of welfare abuse and fraud cases that have become public knowledge. This paranoia generates an inordinate amount of checks and double checks to weed out fraudulent applicants and detect erroneous payments. This checking and double checking requires a disproportionate salaried staff to manage the effort and delays the receipt of services to those with legitimate need. To further add to the administrative burden of the welfare program, the government requires itself to provide welfare applicants with assistance in filling out the forms or filling them out entirely if the applicant cannot. This requires still more salaried staff and administrative expense.
By its unbridled benevolence, the government has completely destroyed personal pride, independence, and the work ethic among approximately 4% of the population and has made the majority of the rest of us dependent on government programs in some form or another.(1) Think about it! Where is government not involved in our everyday lives? Where? We have lost our freedom. We have found our way to the public trough. The damage to the 4% is the most sad. They have not only lost their independence and freedom, but also their dreams, and have become resigned to their fate. So much so that welfare families can now be measured in generations. Hand outs have not helped those families and never will.
A giant bureaucracy has grown around social programs and is apparently out of control. Spending for relief programs demand an increasing tax burden on working Americans and jeopardizes their futures. Congress has used our tax dollars to buy power and have become almost permanent representatives with the increasingly higher pay and expanded perks they freely award themselves. This vote buying has become so pernicious that our representatives gladly rape the national defense budget to get even more dollars to ensure their continued status. The price of a failed social program may be serious, but the price of a failed defense is unacceptable and possibly catastrophic.
What To Do.
Reversion to self-reliance is painful, but it is not in the best interest of this country for any American to remain dependent on the government in any way, shape, or form. It is not prudent for any American to encourage Federal programs that foster any dependence of any kind. The situation that exists today is a shame shared equally among the indigent, the government, and ourselves: the indigent for so readily giving up their freedom and taking the easy way out through the pockets of others; the government for failure to learn from history and its own mistakes; and us for letting our elected representatives rob us and virtually enslave our fellow man.
What will happen to the poor, the homeless, the jobless, the children who will go to school hungry? Those are serious and pressing social problems, but they are not governmental problems. They can be solved by other means. Private organizations like World Neighbors and Development and Technological Assistance International have developed very successful methods and programs to deal with similar problems, none of which involve hand outs I might add (Johnson 229; Hall 237). I think we would all be better off if the massive welfare system was dissolved as rapidly as possible over a period of a few years. The benefits would be that: politicians would lose an unhealthy power base and a means of control over the citizens they are supposed to serve; the average citizen would see a dramatic decrease in taxes which will make more money available for adequate future planning and to the economy, and; the indigent will learn self-reliance, one of the cornerstones in the founding of this country. I would much rather see people earning a living and maintaining their pride and self-respect than being dependent on a handout. What a shocking, radical thought! I have heard some say that it is demeaning to require work for public assistance and that it should be free. Really? I don't think so. Nothing is free, not even freedom.
Is it too late to turn this problem around? I have my doubts. I have watched in absolute despair as the "throw the rascals out" movement flexed its muscle, yet the vote was to keep my rascal in. It seems as though we think all congressmen are crooks except ours, at least that is what we are told. What I keep hearing is that congressman so and so brought home the bacon to this or that particular state. Bacon being synonymous with lucrative government contracts, new government facilities, federal money for necessary(?) state projects, or programs designed to cure any one of a multitude of real, imagined, or manufactured social problems. It may be too late if we are truly addicted to political pork. That kind of pork clouds the mind, softens the will, and weakens the backbone. Perhaps Nikita Khrushchev was right when he predicted that our grandchildren would live under socialism. Not because of Russian rockets as he promised, but because we American people will eventually choose socialism over the market economy as opined by Dean Russell (173).
Benevolent governments, like benevolent tyrants, have the same ends in mind: the control of their citizens and subjects without the messy use of force which ultimately hastens their downfall. I don't know what direction the future of this country will take, but I have developed a jaundiced eye towards big government and government programs. I have decided that any percentage of my wages is too much to pay for charitable programs I do not support and have proven detrimental to this country. I am fearful for the future of this country, my home. I know that, historically, no government has ever been reduced in size except by open rebellion or violent revolution. I also know the American people will stand for only so much and no more.
Yes, I am fearful of the future.