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Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Welfare State

I have a friend. She’s been a self-employed craftsperson involved in home construction and renovation for 25 years down in South Carolina. For all those years she’s paid her taxes and social security, her own health insurance, and reared a son largely as a single mother.

Recently, her business has all but disappeared due to the recession and the housing crisis. She was having trouble paying the mortgage, so she decided to seek help.

She’d had her first workshop in a rundown part of town, and had seen innumerable welfare families provided with not only housing, but TVs and furniture paid for by the state from the local rent-a-center. Given her neighbors experience, Welfare seemed like an obvious candidate. So, she went down to the office to see what help there was, what the system she’d paid into so loyally all these years as a hard working entrepreneur could give back to her in her time of need.

After her meeting, she called me, incredulous. Yes, they offered to help. They would give her 554.00 a month, garnish her monthly 500.00 in child support, and put a lien on her house. Wow – she could sign over control of her house for a net gain of 54.00 a month! She just couldn’t understand it – what about all of those families that had cars, TVs, apartments, food, medical care, and never, ever worked?

This is the great failure of liberalism. The remnant of LBJ’s Great Society is a social support system that rewards sloth and dysfunction, but has nothing substantial to offer someone of means who has hit a rough patch.

If you own nothing in this country and you’re adept at gaming the system - especially through warehousing foster children – you can live well. Perhaps not luxuriantly, but you can have food, shelter, medical care, and even entertainment. But if you have a job, and own a house, a car, and things get rough, that same network of social services is indifferent to your plight at best, hostile at worst..

There is something wrong with a system that completely neglects the working and middle classes in favor of the welfare class. In fact, there’s something wrong with the entire idea of welfare, except for those who are profoundly disabled. I’ve come to believe that Liberalism jumped the shark with welfare. A state that protects people from dire misfortune and shelters the helpless is to be lauded. But one that coddles the lazy and dishonest, in fact creates entire generations of people for whom hard work and responsibility are alien concepts, is bound to rot from within.

Instead of welfare, America should have committed itself, should now commit itself, to full employment for all who want to work. The recent ‘workfare’ programs were an attempt to reverse this dysfunction, but they are deeply flawed, as they’ve often forced people into little more than indentured servitude – dangerous and humiliating work at less than the minimum wage. People need and deserve a living wage, and their dignity.

There must be better solutions out there. Our government subsidizes crops, the oil and gas industry, the elderly and infirm, and yes, the lazy. Could they subsidize a permanent worker training and employment program instead of the latter? Massive 1930’s style public works projects that trained and then employed millions? I don’t know. I only know that the system as it stands is broken - that if you give generations of people something for nothing, you breed dependence, not freedom.

And we also need to help the struggling working class! They’re drowning and no-one’s throwing them a life preserver. My friend doesn’t have any big credit card debts. Her mortgage is modest and at a very low interest rate. Her distress is not due to rampant personal greed or living beyond her means, as Limbaugh and his ilk would have it.

Rather, she’s a victim of the business cycle, the booms and busts that have accompanied capitalism since perhaps the first barter of labor for grain was made in ancient Sumer.

The question is, do we want a society that buffers hardworking members from these implosions, provides a port in the storm for its workers, or one that leaves them to drown while its right flank protects the fatcats and its left, the layabouts?

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