FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Freedom is the only sustainable promise
Decades of a hugely expensive War on Poverty, years of a rapidly expanding welfare state, and it seems like poverty is worse than ever. Donald Lambro relates some melancholy statistics:
It doesn’t get very much, if any, attention on the network news programs, but national poverty rates have been rising under the Obama administration over the last four years at least.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 15.1 percent of all Americans were living in poverty in 2010 — the highest poverty rate since 1993.
It wasn’t always this way. According to the government, the official poverty rate declined each year between 1993 and 2000, when it fell to 11.3 percent.
In 2010, 31.6 percent of households that were headed by single women were living below the poverty income line. Nearly 16 percent of households headed by single men lived in poverty.
Children bear the brunt of poverty in the U.S. today — accounting for 36 percent of the nation’s poor. In 2010, 16.4 million children were poor.
The Census Bureau reported in 2012 that 46.2 million Americans lived in poverty, as full-time jobs were harder to find and the median income — the midpoint in household income — was 1.5 percent lower than it was in 2010, the second consecutive decline.
Notably, the poverty rate in 2012 was 2.5 percentage points higher than it was in 2007, just before the nation plunged into a deep recession the following year.
A year ago, the overall poverty rate did not budge, stuck at 15 percent, statistically unchanged from where it stood in 2010.
Lambro says the effective way to combat this is “an economy running at full throttle and robust job creation in all regions of the country.” That’s really the only way to do it. The liberal model of high taxation and a deep safety net for a high-unemployment population is simply not sustainable. We’re approaching the end of our decades-long pretense to the contrary – a span that makes the dawn of the Great Society seem ancient to our myopic political culture, but in truth history will judge even the time since the New Deal as but a brief interregnum. America was rich enough to make it work for the better part of a century, but now our human capital has decayed enough to threaten the riches that paid for the system. Generations to come will understand that the Big Government model simply was not sustainable, and wonder why we ever thought otherwise.
People should be assets, not liabilities. The upkeep of a modern human family is pretty steep, even for the most basic food and shelter. Added to these minimal expenses are the natural ambition to seek a better life for yourself and your family. When that ambition can only be satisfied by demanding greater benefits from the benevolent State, it becomes destructive instead of constructive. The frustration of such ambitions is poisonous to the soul.
People are not pets, or machines. They require purpose. People with a great deal of money often grow morose or self-destructive without healthy ambitions to pursue. Even those who regard themselves as lazy need purpose. They’re just not good at going out and finding it. When there is a shortage of purpose to be found, the menace to our society’s soul increases. We are doing people no favors by rendering them superfluous.
Any serious discussion of “poverty” inevitably turns to its definition, which is a political construct. Very few Americans know poverty in the sense that residents of the Third World would recognize. Worse, we now have welfare programs that reach well into the middle class, leaching both resources and precious purpose from society.
To top it off, we have the immense overhead of our bloated government, which gobbles up the majority of every dollar we are told will be spent in the struggle against poverty. That’s one of the reasons our system is not sustainable. When government grows beyond a certain point, it becomes highly adept at using its power to feed itself, buying the political support it requires to grow without measure. That support comes from the upper income strata, as well as the lower. A great deal of political money is spent by very rich people and corporations to buy invaluable political influence – it’s the most valuable resource in any economy that trends away from capitalism and toward socialist control. Unfortunately, the marginal cost of increased power grows exponentially. It takes a lot of dough to grease all the palms necessary to get anything done in the titanic bureaucracy that feasts and slumbers along the Potomac, and in some of the more opulent state capitals.
Money doesn’t appear out of nowhere… at least, not for long. There’s a big cost attached to every attempt to massage monetary policy or conjure imaginary deficit dollars to fund government expansions. In the end, something has to back up all that cash, and it was never really gold or silver. It was always productivity, the use of human muscle and ingenuity to turn raw materials into products with added value, engaging in voluntary transactions that benefit both sides. It’s actually pretty impressive how long we’ve been able to sustain a sense national wealth in an era of diminished overall productivity and workforce collapse. It was always doomed to end on the day that not enough people are working. There’s just no way around that, because without the ability to sell our labor, we cannot participate in those wonderful mutually beneficial voluntary transactions. We find them replaced by involuntary transactions, which simply do not generate as much total value.
Even if we had machines that could conjure our food and basic needs out of thin air, like the replicators on Star Trek, we’d find ourselves languishing in a society that no one could describe as prosperous or happy without productive purpose. For reasons of both morality and prosperity, we must be allowed to find purpose on our own, accepting employment offered voluntarily by our fellow citizens. No one feels productive on the wrong end of a lash, even when someone from the government holds it, not even when we get to cast votes to decide where those whips should be swung.
There is an influential strain of thought on the Left that people can only be truly “free” when relieved of the need to scramble for their basic needs, humbling themselves before the rotten S.O.B.s who sign their paychecks. Rep. Nancy Pelosi praised ObamaCare at its inception because it would supposedly allow people to quit their jobs and become artists, free of the need to worry about paying for health care. Leaving aside how absurdly false this characterization of ObamaCare is – a lot of people are about to receive very painful demonstrations of how it doesn’t provide “free” health care – this idea of liberating people from the need to work is incredibly wrong-headed and toxic. It is through work that we find achievement and fulfillment. It is through earning our own money, and spending it to cover our needs in accordance with our desires, that we are liberated. Allocating resources is the core function of an economy, and economic transactions are an important part of how we relate to each other as citizens. When resources are allocated by force – no matter how benevolent the intentions of those in charge – our relations with each other are corrupted. Demands and resentment replace cooperation and ambition.
We approach the end of one of the final years of the ideology that has dominated America for several generations. It doesn’t work, not over the long run. In a nation of this size and wealth, its failure is likely to be swift and spectacular. The promise of government-engineered prosperity was never sustainable. We’re running low on the freedom that must be sacrificed to feed the State. There will never be a government that can provide the full nourishment of healthy purpose to three hundred million people… but with their economic liberty fully restored, they can give it to each other. Our children will wonder why we waited so long to try that.