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April 2017 Policy Study, Number 17-8


A Commentary on American Public Policy


Part 14



Earlier in this essay, we touched lightly upon the aspect of uncertainty or insecurity for the individual.  We should pursue it a little further.  In this nation today, it is a well-established belief that all persons are entitled to a given standard of living.  Government welfare programs are designed to provide that standard of living, thus relieving the individual of the uncertainty that he will achieve, at least, that standard.  We view this as a good thing.  Conversely, if our personal moral obligation to look after our neighbor is returned to the private sector, the guarantee of a government-established minimum standard of living is lost.  Uncertainty for the individual would once again be introduced into the equation.  At first blush this might appear to be a bad thing.  But is it?


To examine the question, let us use an extreme example.  Suppose we take an infant at birth and provide for every conceivable need, to the extent the child never has recourse to cry.  We keep him warm, feed him, change his diapers, and hold him constantly.  As he grows to adulthood, all his needs and wants are met, and there is never a demand placed upon him.  What kind of an adult will this child grow up to be?  Don’t you think a good case can be made that, although this child will probably mature physically, he will never really grow up?  It should not take much to see that, in our desire to be good to him, we would deprive this child of the opportunity to reach anywhere near his full natural potential as a man.  While learning to walk, didn’t we all fall down and have to get back up and try yet again?  This was repeated until we learned to maintain our balance and master the art of walking.  Someone who is always carried will never learn to walk.


This circumstance does not change just because childhood comes to an end.  It follows us through life.  We actually need uncertainty, challenge, and even some adversity to advance and grow.  If we truly level with ourselves, most of us will have to confess that when left to our own devices and given the opportunity, we are hesitant to move out of our comfort zone.  And more often than not, it is circumstance rather than personal motivation that nudges us out of that zone when we do leave it.  But that is how we learn, grow, and build character.  It is a necessary event, and I believe it is detrimental to the individual when it is precluded, however well-intentioned the motive.  This process would be enhanced if the care of our neighbor were returned to the private sector.


There have been studies done, though you probably have not seen them in the predominant media, that would suggest that something less than one-third of the dollars that we allocate to welfare actually reach the intended recipient, and over two-thirds is simply consumed in the process of implementation.  Almost all respectable private charities are over 90 percent efficient.  Roughly speaking, this would indicate that if we contributed our dollars to a private welfare system in lieu of the government, we would be able to do three times as much for those in need.  Or conversely, we could contribute two-thirds less and still give as much aid to them as we do now, costing three times as much through government.  In reality, government welfare programs are welfare for the bureaucracy and a power base for unscrupulous politicians rather than a genuine system for assisting those in need.  The private sector provides a much more efficient and cost-effective system than does the government.


Something else would follow in the footsteps of returning welfare back to the private sector which would be much more appreciated by those in need than the welfare benefits themselves.  It is true that most of us would no longer contribute to a private welfare system to the same degree that we were involuntarily forced to contribute in the government-sponsored system.  But as you can see from above, because of the much greater efficiency of the private sector, it would not be necessary that we did.  Be that as it may, what is of interest here are those dollars that are now consumed by the welfare bureaucracy that would instead be left in the public’s pocket to do with as best suited them.  Indeed, we could continue to contribute them to charity; but even in the event that we do not, they would provide a real and desirable benefit to those currently on welfare.  The fact that the benefit is provided indirectly and less visibly than is now the case does not make it any less valuable.


What would happen to those dollars that would be left in the public’s pocket?  There are only four general categories for disposal:  1) They could be left inactive, sitting in a pile to mildew and rot . . . not very likely.  2) As suggested before, they could be given away to whomever the holder wished, possibly to those in need.  Not only is this possible, but for a certain portion of them it is quite likely.  3) They could be spent on personal consumption.  Undoubtedly, a large portion would find their way into this category.  4) Or they could be invested, used to generate more of themselves; which then could again be used in any of the four listed categories.


Category one would seem to be of little value to anyone other than the holder, and it is somewhat questionable for even him.  Category two would seem to hold a fair amount of value for the recipient, those in need.  Categories three and four, as the direct benefits accrue to the holder, would seem to be of dubious value to someone in need; but if we look, we will find indirect benefits to others.


For it even to be possible for anyone to purchase the object of his desire, logic dictates that the object first would have had to be produced by someone.  That means someone had a job.  The more money left in the public’s pocket, plus the more objects desired, equals the need for more jobs; and it takes the investment mentioned in number four to finance those jobs.  Those that already have jobs are probably not on welfare, which means that the newly created jobs will need to be filled by people not already in the workforce.  Thus, the indirect benefit engendered by numbers three and four is the opportunity of a job to someone in need.  This job is worth more than all the welfare benefits, for it offers the recipient hope for self-esteem, self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and independence.  All these are missing in the current system of government handouts.


Not only are all of these missing, there is no hope that they would ever be supplied by a government system even if it were possible to do so, if for no other reason than this:  every incentive which the government bureaucrat and the unscrupulous politician have is to keep the welfare recipient dependent.  Why?  Because if the welfare recipient ever truly did become self-sufficient and independent, there would be no need for the welfare bureaucracy.  The “bureau rat” would lose his livelihood, and the unscrupulous politician would lose his power base.  How anxious do you suppose these two are to voluntarily relinquish their positions, along with the power and dollars that go with them?  It will happen about the same time that pigs learn to fly.


In the private sector, the incentive would be to make the recipient productive and a contributor to society rather than merely a consumer of the largesse of others.  There are many good and noble reasons why this is true; but if nothing else, there is one selfish reason you probably will not question.  If the former welfare recipient is no longer in need of the largesse, it will leave more in our own pocket.  I believe the entire concept of “income redistribution” is morally perverse.  It is contrary to“the law of Nature and of Nature’s God.”  The fruit of the labor of the original producer is taken from him by threat and coercion if he acquiesces, by force if he does not.  It is taken by those who have usurped power and pretend they have legitimate authority, to be given to another.  This is an act of theft, and the real benefits accrue to the thieves.  The unwilling “donor” and the recipient both suffer the loss.  The donor loses the well-deserved fruit of his labor, and the recipient loses his sovereignty and the opportunity to acquire self-esteem.  Surely we can do better than this.




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