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April 2017 Policy Study, Number 17-8


A Commentary on American Public Policy


Part 10



Another consequence of our current social policies is what it does to the character of the individual who becomes dependent on it.  Unfortunately, it is visited most harshly on those most in need of the assistance.  The false “entitlement” to government assistance eases or even removes the physical need to be self-reliant and self-sufficient.  What this physical assistance cannot hope to mitigate is the personal satisfaction and the psychological yearning that can only be sated by successful attainment of the condition of self-reliance and self-sufficiency.


What does it mean to be self-reliant and self-sufficient?  If we asked ten different people this question, it is entirely possible we would get ten different answers.  These conditions probably cannot be precisely defined to the satisfaction of all.  It is likely true that the terms meant something different 200 years ago when an individual would sojourn out into the plains or up into mountains alone and survive entirely on his own, truly independently, than it does presently in an age of specialization when our survival is much more interdependent.  Almost none of us would survive any real length of time today under the former conditions.


Yet today, we have our own brand of trials and tribulations.  We have our own conditions of uncertainty.  In a word, we face our own adversity.  Though it may seem kind to relieve our brother from any adversity he may face, it is wholly necessary that he face it.  We are not now speaking of the periods of adversity of high intensity and rather short duration that almost all of us could use a little extra help to get through.  Instead, we are speaking of those chronic, long-term periods of adversity better known as the burdens of everyday life that we all face.  If we, even with the best of intentions, remove these challenges (especially starting early in life), we do the recipient no favors.  Two very important reasons come to mind.


First, if the recipient does not learn how to overcome the smaller challenges that come along early in life, he is never going to be prepared to tackle the ever larger challenges that are sure to follow as he progresses through life.  In all likelihood, we have sentenced him to a life of perpetual adolescence, that is, a life of perpetual dependence.  Second is the matter of the subservience that follows dependence.  Alleviation of the adversities of everyday life is predicated on compliance with a standard of behavior established by the perceived grantor of the largesse, the government.  When you come to think about it, this is more or less the condition of a house pet.  You shall have warmth, shelter, food, and drink as long as you don’t chew up the furniture and mess on the carpet.


Though this is not the intent of our social programs, it is closer to the reality of the situation than most will care to admit.  I fully suspect that the vast majority of the people, who find themselves in this condition at least subconsciously sense the ignominy of the situation, starting at a very young age.  Is it any wonder that a sizable portion of the citizens of this nation are low on self-esteem?  Our answer is to try to teach self-esteem to them, rather than allow them to earn it.  In my opinion, this is a very arrogant approach, and it is doomed to fail.  The reason is because you really cannot teach true self-esteem.  What you do teach is false pride — hubris.  Self-esteem cannot be taught; it must be earned.  It is earned by personally overcoming the trials and tribulations of everyday life.


For those of you who at this point think me to be a brute, let me offer this for your consideration.  I have challenged my own children, from the time of their infancy, to be independent, self-reliant, and self-sufficient.  And although it was sometimes very hard to watch and not interfere, I allowed them to earn their self-esteem.  It was not because I was a mean dad or a poor father that I took this approach.  It was because I loved them so much that I was willing to do what I considered to be, rightly or wrongly, in their best long-term interest.  And many, many times it really did “hurt me more than it did them.”


Thus far, this discussion has not produced a bona fide definition of self-reliance or self-sufficiency, nor is it likely to.  But I have come to believe the key to understanding the concepts lies less in the domain of the level of creature comforts obtained than in developing the skill to work through and overcome those conditions of uncertainty we all must face in our day-to-day lives.  In other words, I do not believe that just because I do not have the wherewithal of some wealthy movie star or athlete that I am less than self-reliant or self-sufficient.  Nor do I believe that those who have still less wherewithal than I do are necessarily so.


In any case, no one should be discouraged from doing their utmost to obtain the condition of self-reliance and self-sufficiency or be denied the opportunity to earn their self-esteem; but I fear our current social policies have just those effects.  In the final analysis, I believe it is actually necessary for us, as individuals, to work through and overcome these conditions of uncertainty for ourselves.  As far as I can ascertain, it is the only thing that can engender true self-esteem in the individual.  It is as necessary to the development of the “self” as exercise is to the development of our bodies.


Another harmful feature of our current social welfare policy is the ebbing of caring, personal relationships with our neighbors which it inevitably produces.  By this it is not meant that all such relationships are dwindling, but rather that the scope of the possible relationships which could be classified as caring is becoming constricted.  Imagine a circle with a dot in the center, that dot representing you.  Now populate the circle with other dots, most heavily nearest you and receding in density as you move outward.  Let this circle represent the scope of caring, personal relationships in times past.  Now draw another circle using the same center but a shorter diameter.  Notice the dots that have been excluded from within the scope of the present circle.  The relationships within the inner circle may be as caring as ever; but those that reside outside of the inner circle are much atrophied or even lost.  I believe this is a realistic representation of what is occurring daily, and the very social programs that are supposedly designed to help are exacerbating it.  There appear to be at least two broad categories that fuel this undesirable action.


The first reason is both physical and practical.  We really are too busy to maintain the full scope of relationships we could in times past.  But why is that so?  For the very same reasons that we also do not have the time to devote to our children in regards to their upbringing and education:  it is because our government has become a behemoth, far beyond the scope of anything our Founders even imagined.  With this increase in the size and scope of government has come the appetite of a behemoth for revenue to implement the increased activities of government of which our social programs in toto are the largest and ever-growing part.  If the government cannot turn rocks into bread or spin straw into gold, and who will openly argue that it can, where does government get its revenue?  It takes it from the fruit of the labors of those who produce it, and that is you and me, from the poorest amongst us.  And we must apply more of our precious time each year to satisfy that appetite.


I will endeavor to show and convince you that even the poorest among us, who earn their keep by the sweat of their brow, are surreptitiously made to bear the same aggregate tax rate as the very wealthy.  The tax is contained in the purchase price of all they pay for and consume. Even if you refuse to believe the argument, you cannot deny that in far too many families, both father and mother are members of the workforce.  Many times, one or the other, and sometimes both, have to take a second job just to make ends meet.  Over half of the fruit of the labor of this nation’s workforce goes to sate the appetite for revenue of the leviathan we now “enjoy” as our government.  We have been put to work to quench the desires of that government rather than taking care of the needs of our families, friends, and neighbors.  With their needs unmet, we naturally have to have another government program that runs the cost of government still higher.  This means we work more, leaving ever greater needs, which we used to take care of ourselves, unmet, which means we need another government program, and on and on.  And all the while the diameter of that circle of caring relationships continues to dwindle.


The second category we will discuss is not as readily apparent to the physical senses, but it is no less real.  Above you envisioned a circle populated with dots that were concentrated toward the center and diminished in concentration in relation to their distance from the center.  This was to serve as model of the affinity of the caring relationships between the individual and selected members of society at large.  Caring relationships are affected by many factors:  emotional attachment, kinship, and physical proximity to name but three.  The most intense relationships, those found nearest the center, will contain a high degree of all three elements, and those nearer the periphery relatively less. 


Outside of the circle is the remainder of society, those who share none of the elements with the individual at the center.  Hence, a truly caring relationship is nonexistent.  For these, only a relationship of the most general definition is possible.  About the best we can do as an individual is to acknowledge that there are other flesh-and-blood individuals who reside outside of our perception.  For better or for worse, this is the natural order of things.  While this might present an appallingly glum view from one’s own personal perspective, we must remember that each of those other individuals, whether inside or outside of our own personal circle, occupies a position at the center of a circle of their own and that these circles overlap.  One of the things that causes the development of these circles is human need.  There are any number of specific needs that could be named, but we will limit our discussion to the two basic categories of physical and emotional (i.e. need for love, need to be wanted, need to be useful, etc.).


The thrust of most government programs is aimed at the physical, and it is probably arguable that some of these programs are moderately successful.  What government cannot begin to address is the emotional side of the equation.  Government is an entity only in our legal mind’s eye.  It is not flesh and blood, and it can never form a truly caring relationship with a real flesh-and-blood individual.  The personification of government as having human feelings or a human face, with which we are indoctrinated, is a myth.  The agents of government who work to implement our government’s social programs might be truly caring individuals, but it is highly unlikely that they can deal with the steady stream of clientele day after day and still form a caring relationship with any but the smallest percentage of that clientele.  Relationships take time, and the agent simply does not have that amount of time to devote to any given individual.  In the meantime, not only has the social clientele come to rely on the government to meet its needs, so have the rest of us.  We have come to view those who avail themselves of social services as a rather amorphous mass of individuals with neither names nor even faces.  We abrogate our personal social responsibilities to government, hoping it will be taken care of and be cheaper in the bargain, neither of which is the reality.


The bureaucracy that implements our social services consumes more of the funds dedicated to that purpose than the intended recipients do.  What we have developed are government jobs, welfare for bureaucrats.  And in the process, believing we have covered all the bases, we have removed a human need that causes those social circles to form that are so necessary in addressing the original problem.  The personal care of our neighbor simply cannot be replaced by government largesse.  It can only be addressed in the private sector.  There are those who will object to this prescription.  Their argument comes down to this:  either our fellow citizens will not perform their obligation at all, or they will not fulfill their obligation to the extent that the objector believes they should.


First and foremost, the citizens of this nation are a good people, and I have every confidence in them to come to their neighbor’s aid and do a better job than is possible by government.  In the event they do not live up to my expectations, I have not the authority to physically compel them to perform up to my expectations.  If I do not have this authority to compel them to perform myself, I cannot possibly grant that authority to government to compel others to perform, on my behalf, up to my expectations.  That would be usurpation on my part, and it is a prescription for tyranny enacted by the majority.




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