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April 2017 Policy Study, Number 17-8


A Commentary on American Public Policy


Part 13



What alternative might we have to the current social welfare system?  As my main objection to the current system has been its public nature, that is government fraudulently acting as the beneficiary and then demanding obsequience from the populace in order to partake of its largesse, the obvious direction in which to look would be the private sector.  That would be you and me and all of our friends and neighbors.  Is this possible?  You bet it is.  In the first place, it is exactly this group of people, through the exorbitant taxes they pay, who is currently footing the bill; it’s just that it is now the government who is falsely claiming the credit and making the demands.  Aside from that, this nation is still populated with a good people, and there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that they would provide sustenance and shelter for those truly in need:


I can find no warrant for such appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit.  A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly that, though the people support the Government, the Government should not support the people.  The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune.  This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated.  Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.  (President Grover Cleveland).


Even now, despite the fact that they are heavily burdened with taxes, they are already providing these things to many tens of thousands of the truly needy that the government is unable to reach despite the billions of dollars of resources it throws at the problem.  And real, honest–to-goodness flesh-and-blood people can provide some vitally important elements that all the resources of government cannot.  For all its good intentions, a government bureaucracy can never replace the value of an interpersonal relationship.  You cannot make me believe that government cares more for people than their neighbors do.  A government program cannot replace the genuine caring between two neighbors which arises spontaneously and voluntarily out of the need of one of the parties.


On the contrary, the excessive tax burden, plus the extra time commitment required to generate those taxes that are placed on the individual pursuant to the government’s attempt to fulfill this role, tends to diminish and even stifle the individual’s economic ability and, worse yet, his commitment to take on this very necessary role.  The feeling that someone else is already doing the job and the feeling that he has already fulfilled his moral obligation with his monetary (tax) contribution are further stumbling blocks to action on the part of the individual.  Whether government involvement in this matter produces more positive than negative consequences would seem open for a legitimate debate.


There has always been a very strong tradition of neighbor helping neighbors in this nation, and I see no reason why it would not continue.  The resources of time and money may limit him, but the individual has taken care of his neighbor to the best of his ability.  I do not think it foolish to believe in the goodness of the people of this nation or their commitment to their neighbor; they will do so voluntarily, given half a chance.  Whether they support their neighbor at an economic level we deem sufficient is not for us to judge.  Instead, if we detect further need, we should voluntarily supply that need to the best of our ability rather than try to force others to do so through the use of public funds.  Our moral obligation to our neighbor is a personal obligation, and it can only be legitimately fulfilled through our personal action.  The intrusion of government into the process serves but to dull the impetus to perform the moral obligation for neighbor to help neighbor and the benefits to both which follow.  This is a loss on which it is impossible to put a price.




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