Apr. 21 2011 – 12:31 pm | 3,421 views | 0 recommendations | 8 comments
By BILL FLAX, Forbes
The budget debates have been illuminating. Apparently, those heartless tea partiers would gladly allow children to starve so millionaires can pay less in the way of taxes. The latter has been a recurring slander leveled against welfare reform in the ’90s and more recently in response to Paul Ryan’s budget proposal.
No one starved then. What if Washington stopped doling out relief now? Would a vacuum prevail? It’s an odd presumption considering free markets have lifted so many millions out of poverty and America is the world’s most generous dispenser of private charity. Maybe sanctimonious liberals fear such a vacuum because they are notoriously stingy.
People who oppose government redistribution contribute four times as much charity as those who favor such schemes. This includes 3.5 times as much to secular charities. Those who prefer free markets also give more blood, are more likely to provide directions, to return change given mistakenly or offer assistance to the homeless.
To truly be charity, alms must be given freely, require nothing in remuneration and offer the donor no material benefit. If possible, benevolence should be anonymous. The left hand ought to not even know what the right hand does.
Instead, the Left hand blares a trumpet about compassion while spending others’ money as it shamelessly smears the Right. Who is really heartless: those seeking fiscal responsibility or those spending our children into peonage?
Using one’s heart and one’s mind are not mutually exclusive.
The real vacuum is federal spending. Washington filters our taxes through a bureaucratic black-hole before spewing out waste and vote-buying patronage. Public charity is an oxymoron. There is nothing moral in confiscating property from one to bestow on another.
As discussed previously, society does not revolve around Washington. The building blocks for an ordered, coherent community are families, friends and neighbors and then church (or equivalent). Only if each fails does government have any justification to execute its own counterfeit charity.
In our limited, constitutional republic, the pecking order for a public response is first local government, and then state. There is no constitutional standing for federal charity. Rather than Congressman Ryan’s block grants to states, why funnel these funds through Washington at all? Instead, restore control back to state and local governments. The closer proximity between giver and recipient, the more efficient and responsible is charity’s conduct.
Historically, when private parties provided most benevolence, it was generally administered more prudently than politicians redistributing other’s largesse. Thomas Jefferson bragged that you could travel the entire eastern seaboard and never encounter an American begging. Private charity was readily available and distributed responsibly so as to not create additional social burdens.
Relief was never meant for people who could help themselves, but don’t. Instead of easy handouts, people who neglect their duties could be taught responsibility and the dignity of work. Sensible charity offers a minimal safety net to prevent starvation or exposure, not provide idle comfort.
Poverty once suggested that someone lacked food, clothing or shelter. As the Heritage Foundation observed,
According to the government’s own surveys, the typical “poor” American has cable or satellite TV, two color TV’s, a DVD player or VCR. He has air conditioning, a car, a microwave, a refrigerator, a stove, and a clothes washer and dryer. He is able to obtain medical care when needed. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry, and he had sufficient funds in the past year to meet his family’s essential needs.
Not exactly dire circumstances. The average menial laborer today enjoys more material abundance than a prince or tribal chieftain of recent past.
Washington sets the poverty bar at three times the income level necessary to afford an adequate diet. In 2011 it’s about $22,500 for families of four. The calculation considers only about four percent of government assistance. An average family with children in the bottom third of income receives over $30,000 of government relief annually across 71 means tested poverty programs.
Per the Census Bureau, people classified as poor spend $2.24 for every $1 of reported income. Many underreport income, acquired illicitly or otherwise, to avoid taxes and qualify for greater handouts. If the rate were based on consumption, poverty would be halved.
These endeavors violate many of the essential ingredients of sound economics. By means testing, incentives are perverted. They discourage effort, personal savings and marriage. We incent people not to work, spend frivolously and have children out of wedlock despite a clear correlation between marriage and success; and similar connections between illegitimacy and crime, drug abuse, unemployment and poor academic performance.
Welfare may profit overpaid government social workers, but it impoverishes those most vulnerable in our midst while consigning them to communities wreaked by high crime and moral despair. Men become superfluous as women marry the state. As illegitimate children became a bread ticket, we got more illegitimate children. Men turn to the street unbridled by the responsibility of providing for their offspring.
Handouts destroy families, rendering the recipients into perpetual dependence. Welfare creates so many additional social needs that only government can marshal sufficient resources in certain low-income areas. But that government exacerbates a problem leading to more government and thus more exacerbation offers a rationale to shrink, not expand the state’s reach.
The welfare state was created by opportunists exemplifying Lord Acton’s warning that power corrupts. It exploits the poor as political props with little regard for their well-being. The state is not altruistic. It is not inhabited by exemplars of wisdom and virtue transcending the human frailties that befall the rest of us.
According to Hillsdale College’s Michael Bauman, “More frequently than we care to admit, our poverty programs are thinly veiled efforts to enhance our self-esteem and to assuage our consciences by means of state programs. To imagine that by such shallow and self-gratifying efforts we can eliminate human poverty is shameless hubris, not charity and grace.”
Government sinecures actually lobby Congress on behalf of continuing these wasteful, overlapping programs for their personal enrichment. The SEIU, AFSCME and other bureaucrats advocate ardently for enlarged entitlements. But budget matters are secondary. The question is do these programs harm their supposed beneficiaries.
Social problems grow proportionately to what we waste “solving” them. Increased spending has not decreased poverty. The poverty rate stood at 12.6% in 1970. We now dispense, in real terms, about 15 times as much in blatant disregard of human nature. President Obama accelerated welfare spending by over 40%, to almost $1 trillion, but the rate today is 15%.
America spends over $2 trillion annually on entitlements, but this promises to explode as Baby Boomers retire. Private charity totals about $300 billion. If Washington ceased, could private parties tackle this terrific burden?
Today, America is far wealthier than when relief was local and primarily private. The average income, adjusted for inflation, increased sevenfold during the Twentieth Century. We’re wealthier, healthier, have more opportunities, etc. There are more resources available for charity because we’re better off, and were it still conducted sensibly, there would be less need.
The expanding attitude of entitlement endangers our very national ethos. America should never have embarked on this wretched journey which may soon smother the private sector. Only the creation of wealth can truly overcome poverty and this depends on individual effort.
Americans must quickly restore our self-reliance before we drown under egalitarian collectivism.