Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Seduction of the Welfare State

Columnist and economist Walter Williams often hits the nail squarely on the head. The following excerpt comes from a column that does just that:

Dependency on government
Walter E. Williams

July 6, 2005

William Beach has just written a report for the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation titled "The 2005 Index of Dependency." Between 1962 and today, American dependence on government has more than doubled and shows little sign of abatement. The growth areas of dependency examined in the report are: welfare and medical care, housing, retirement income, education, and rural and agricultural services. The budgetary impact of dependency threatens perpetual budget deficits and high taxes, but to focus only on the budgetary impact is to trivialize the more devastating aspects of dependency.

Some of this has been commented upon by University of Texas professor Marvin Olasky in his 1992 book, "The Tragedy of American Compassion." One of the results of the growth of dependency on government is what Professor Olasky calls the charitable equivalent of Gresham's Law -- where bad charities drive out good charities.

Consider two options for a homeless family. A church or some other non-governmental entity might offer a homeless family shelter in return for the family's performance of chores such as cleaning the kitchen, mowing the lawn and washing windows. By contrast, a shelter financed by the government might provide that family shelter with no such obligation. The natural tendency for many homeless families would be to opt for the shelter where they have no obligation to give back. The Gresham's Law feature of this is the displacement of charity from the local and private level to the state, where all too often the state is unwilling or unable to distinguish between deserving and undeserving need.

There's another devastating feature of growing dependency on government. Professor Olasky says that prior to the 1960s, marriage was a more vital institution than today. It was a "compassionate anti-poverty device that offered adults affiliation and challenge as it provided two parents for each child." Before the '60s, the support for marriage was so strong that an unmarried woman who became pregnant usually would get married. Professor Olasky adds that 85 percent of teenage mothers in the 1950s were married by the time their babies were born. That's before we bought into the vision promoted by "experts" such as Johns Hopkins professor Andrew Cherlin, who said, "It has yet to be shown that the absence of a father was directly responsible for any of the supposed deficiencies of broken homes." The real issue, according to Professor Cherlin, "is not the lack of male presence but the lack of male income." That's a vision that says marriage and fatherhood can be replaced by a welfare check.

Read the entire column

Tags: Welfare, Dependency, Government, Compassion, Family, Marriage, Charities


Daddy said...

I think the whole idea of getting something for nothing is a big problem in our society. Not only is that ideology flawed, but when people begin to believe that they can survive without ever having to work for anything their resoning will often only follow one direction: "If I can get this for free, why should I better myself."

James Shott said...

Welcome back, Mr. Paw. I checked in at your page. Glad to see you're you blogging again.

It is a sad state of affairs. Our nation was built on rugged individualism, on people hacking through the wilderness to find their "place in the sun," overcoming adversity to build their dream.

We are fast becomming a nation of dependents who can do very little on their own. I predict that our society will collapse in the next 40 years or so if this trend continues.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Williams, MrPaw and James Shott, you may be bearding a lion in its den, but you all are absolutely correct. I am old enough to remember when dire need suddenly transformed into utter dependency in this country. I have also seen the logical consequences of such dependency. If some rich dude or government will foot the bill, I might as well get what I can.That philosophy is not limited to the poor. (Look at how and why ACLU lawyers make more in an hour of padded time than many working stiffs make in a week. It is the working people who pay their bills.)
The only solution to the problem of poverty has been for the past 70 years or so to throw money at it. That changed a wee bit a few years back, but the trend hasn't caught on in some areas and some groups. Poverty is more a mental state than a financial state, although it is aggravated by a constant condition of need. There is a heap o' difference between simply being poor and being in poverty.
The recent G-8 session came up with a 50B package of relief for African nations, but that won't be much more effective than the old lady who peed in the ocean and said, "Evey little bit helps."
The money must first get to those who need it and they, in turn, must have the gumption to remove themselves from the dependency and become independent. Given the conditions in some of the countries, that last step may be nigh on to impossible.
There MUST be an incentive to get out of poverty if the war against it is to be won. That incentive must come from within the individual, although there could be a little inducement and perhaps a little help from outside sources to change one's life style.
The Windjammer

QFU said...

Indiscriminate charity will be our downfall. Charity absolutely should come from the individual, or the private organization, not the government. The government has an abyssmal record on how they've handled our social programs. And as long as there are those elsewhere in the world who continue to criticize our government for how much it contributes without considering individual contributions from our citizens, the more pressure that comes to bear on the government to give more at home and abroad.

I say NO MORE. Charity must be at the discretion of the individual if we are to survive intact.


James Shott said...

Welcome, Oyster. Thanks for your comment.

The government was never intended to be an instrument of charity, or a care provider. Unfortunately, a great many people either don't realize that, or don't care.

Daddy said...

Quoting the Windjammer: "The recent G-8 session came up with a 50B package of relief for African nations, but that won't be much more effective than the old lady who peed in the ocean and said, "Evey little bit helps."

I couldn't agree more. In fact, unless I am sorely mistaken a recent study just came out citing the lack of a correlation between giving out lots of money indescriminantly and better economies, and the focus was, of course, on Africa. If you just throw money to the wind and hope to see improvement you will never get anywhere. That is a fact.