On the Welfare State

The pros seem to be outweighed by the cons in the welfare state:

Because we live in a fallen world, we will always have major social and economic problems. So we will always have the poor. And that is just what Jesus said: “The poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11). But the Bible also enjoins us to care for the poor.

The real issue is this: which is the best means by which to help the poor? Many folks on the left (secular and religious) believe it is the job of big government to help the poor. Many of them think that socialism is the way to proceed.

I have elsewhere argued that both biblically and economically, this is simply not so. Those wanting to see that case made in much more detail will find it in the 200-plus articles here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/category/economics/

I have also written much on the welfare state and its many shortcomings. As I began one article on this topic:

The welfare state arose just after the second World War and has been a dominant – and growing – feature of the West ever since. Many criticisms have been levelled against the welfare state over the years. The main concerns have been about economic stagnation and decline, addiction to state largesse and entitlements, disincentives to work, the undermining of personal responsibility, ever increasing powers given to the state, the breakdown of family and community, bloated bureaucracies, the collapse of the work ethic, and welfare dependency. Other problems can be mentioned. But the longer Western welfare states have gone on, the more apparent the inherent shortcomings of the system have become. https://billmuehlenberg.com/2007/05/21/rethinking-the-welfare-state/

Here I want to offer some choice quotes about the welfare state, taken from economists, political scientists, theologians, philosophers and others. Some are by secular authors, some Christian, some Jewish. But all highlight the counter-productive nature of the welfare state, and how it really ends up doing more harm than good.

Before offering these quotes let me say that there is SOME role for the state to help look after the deserving poor. There is a place for safety nets and so on. I am simply making the case that government programs – which may at times have started out with the best of intentions – can soon become just self-perpetuating bureaucracies where the state gets bigger while the poor get poorer.

Here then are some key quotations, beginning with some briefer ones:

“We should measure welfare’s success by how many leave welfare, not by how many are added.” Ronald Reagan

“Welfare’s purpose should be to eliminate, as far as possible, the need for its own existence.” Ronald Reagan

“The welfare state is the oldest con game in the world. First you take people’s money away quietly and then you give some of it back to them flamboyantly.” Thomas Sowell

“The welfare state is not really about the welfare of the masses. It is about the egos of the elites.” Thomas Sowell

“Whether we want to own up to it or not, the welfare state has done what Jim Crow, gross discrimination and poverty could not have done. It has contributed to the breakdown of the black family structure and has helped establish a set of values alien to traditional values of high moral standards, hard work and achievement.” Walter Williams

“There is no virtue in compulsory government charity, and there is no virtue in advocating it. A politician who portrays himself as “caring” and “sensitive” because he wants to expand the government’s charitable programs is merely saying that he’s willing to try to do good with other people’s money. Well, who isn’t? And a voter who takes pride in supporting such programs is telling us that he’ll do good with his own money — if a gun is held to his head.” P. J. O’Rourke

“The more the state gives to its citizens, the less they have to earn. That is the basic concept of the welfare state – you receive almost everything you need without having to earn any of it. About half of Americans now pay no federal income tax – but they receive all government benefits just as if they had paid for, i.e., earned them.” Dennis Prager

The welfare state that is built upon this conception seems to prove precisely away from the conservative conception of authoritative and personal government, towards a labyrinthine privilege sodden structure of anonymous power, structuring a citizenship that is increasingly reluctant to answer for itself, increasingly parasitic on the dispensations of a bureaucracy towards which it can feel no gratitude.” Roger Scruton

The history of the welfare state is the history of public enterprise pushing out private organization. The impact was largely unintentional, but natural and inevitable. Higher taxes left individuals with less money to give; government’s assumption of responsibility for providing welfare shriveled the perceived duty of individuals to respond to their neighbors’ needs; and the availability of public programs gave recipients an alternative to private assistance, one which did not challenge recipients to reform their destructive behavior.” Doug Bandow

Doing good with other people’s money has two basic flaws. In the first place, you never spend anybody else’s money as carefully as you spend your own. So a large fraction of that money is inevitably wasted. In the second place, and equally important, you cannot do good with other people’s money unless you first get the money away from them. So that force – sending a policeman to take the money from somebody’s pocket – is fundamentally at the basis of the philosophy of the welfare state.” Milton Friedman

“The endgame for statists is very obvious. If you expand the bureaucratic class and you expand the dependent class, you can put together a permanent electoral majority. In political terms, a welfare check is a twofer: you’re assuring yourself of the votes both of the welfare recipient and of the mammoth bureaucracy required to process his welfare.” Mark Steyn

The welfare state is less a social safety net than a kind of cage—a large cage but a cage nonetheless. And its occupants are not a trapeze act but more like an expensive zoo animal. Think of a panda. He’s the most expensive item in any zoo’s budget: those American institutions lucky enough to host a big cuddly panda spend some three million per annum on the cute l’il feller. They feed him, they protect him, they give him everything he could possibly want—except a purpose. Eventually, like Europeans, he can’t even be bothered to breed. You put the comeliest lady panda you can find in the cage with him, and he’s not interested. He just lies around all day. To reprise Charles Murray’s line, Big Government ‘drains too much of the life from life’.” Mark Steyn

Entitlements are the death of responsible government: they offend against every republican precept. Regardless of government revenues or broader economic conditions, they ‘mandate’ spending: they are thus an offense against one of the most basic democratic principles—that a parliament cannot bind its successors. In a sense, they negate the American revolution. They are taxation without representation—for, as we well know, no matter how the facts on the ground evolve over the decades, entitlements are insulated from both parliamentary oversight and election results. That is why the battle has to be won in the broader culture. Entitlements have to be delegitimized. ‘Human dignity,’ writes Paul Rahe, ‘is bound up with taking responsibility for conducting one’s own affairs.’ When the state annexes that responsibility, the citizenry are indeed mere sheep to the government shepherd.” Mark Steyn

“American welfare policy had come to an impasse: Though welfare had done some good for those who needed only a temporary boost to get back on their feet, it had also created a permanent underclass–the chronically poor, whose poverty was related to social pathologies such as alcohol addiction, drug abuse, fatherless homes, and crime. Everyone on both sides of the political aisle agreed that welfare needed to be reformed, but no one knew how to do it.

“It was Olasky who discovered the answer, and he did it by analyzing the traditional Christian approach to charity. In researching the vast proliferation of Christian charities in the nineteenth century, often dubbed the Benevolent Empire, Olasky found that the churches specialized in personal assistance that fulfilled the literal meaning of compassion–’suffering with’ others. They didn’t just hand out money; they helped people change their lives, focusing on job training and education. They required that the poor do some useful work, giving them a chance to rebuild their dignity by making a worthwhile contribution to society. They helped outcasts to build a social network–to reconnect with family and church for ongoing support and accountability. Most of all, they addressed the moral and spiritual needs that lie at the heart of dysfunctional behavior.

“Clearly, this goes beyond what any government can do. In fact, government aid can actually make things worse. By handing out welfare checks impersonally to all who qualify, without addressing the underlying behavioral problems, the government in essence ‘rewards’ antisocial and dysfunctional patterns. And any behavior the government rewards will generally tend to increase. As one perceptive nineteenth-century critic noted, government assistance is a ‘mighty solvent to sunder the ties of kinship, to quench the affections of family, to suppress in the poor themselves the instinct of self-reliance and self-respect–to convert them into paupers’.” Nancy Pearcey

“According to a Hoover Institute economist: ‘The poor are a gold mine. By the time they are studied, advised, experimented with, and administered, the poor have helped many a middle-class liberal to achieve affluence with government money.’

“Obviously. some money must be spent to administer welfare. The problem is that these federal, state, and local bureaucracies are spending a disproportionate amount for administration, to the point where welfare programs are better for the welfare of the bureaucracies than for the poor. We should not be surprised that welfare has become a growth industry. Welfarism does more for the state, its power, and its bureaucracy than it does for the poor.

“Some cities and many states have very strict rules controlling every private or religious charity. No solicitation of funds is permitted unless very strict rules are complied with, and in some instances, groups not meeting the rules are put on a blacklist. Some of these rules are common sense requirements to prevent fraud; others tend to be unreasonable. The important fact is that various state agencies would not qualify if a like set of rules applied to them. There are abuses in the private sector, but these are few and exceptional, whereas the abuses on the part of statist agencies are commonplace and flagrant.

“More than a few writers of recent years, including George Gilder, have shown that welfarism is a detriment to the poor and a breeding ground for a large variety of social problems. To this we can add that it is now becoming apparent that the major beneficiary of welfarism has been a power-hungry state. In other words, it is the federal, state, and local agencies of civil government that get the real benefits from welfarism. The poor (and the taxpayers) are the victims of it.

“In the name of welfare, we have been creating a power state.” R. J. Rushdoony

[1875 words]

5 Replies to “On the Welfare State”

  1. 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12
    Paul warns the believers against idleness.
    6. Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living
    Meaning simply, no work, no food.(10)
    Of course there are those among us too sick, old or disabled to work efficiently and must be cared for, but any able-bodied person has a duty to work. There are those who have be indoctrinated to believe that, because an individual didn’t ask to be born, it’s their right to expect to be cared for. Dangerous socialism. Each according to their ability, each according to their need. Which is also the theme of the Jewish kibbutzim movement, but you will not find a malingerer in a kibbutz.
    But the consequence of the welfare system is those who are idle, are more likely to indulge in antisocial behaviour. And with spare time on their hands,

  2. A good balanced article Bill. I’m a strong believer in working for the dole. Also, I think in Australia at present it’s often too easy for some to get a disability pension and then discover that a few are quite capable of doing some work, at least. ie physical or mental work.

  3. I loved this one… ““According to a Hoover Institute economist: ‘The poor are a gold mine. By the time they are studied, advised, experimented with, and administered, the poor have helped many a middle-class liberal to achieve affluence with government money.’ Hahaha – such a perfect description of the NDIS disaster. On top of this we have the health professionals who know how to play the system and paint the perfect picture to get their own kids registered onto NDIS. Why? To collect free babysitting, free housework, free this and that. Yep – siphoning money to themselves for the sake of “helping the poor”. (Or in some cases – the fake poor)

  4. Very revealing. Vital info. So true.

    Hence The Proposed Voice to Parliament… life sucking for our country… of no benefit to the needy…

  5. Oh yeah! The welfare state in all Western nations is in an enormous mess. Almost none of it in Australia is directed towards getting people onto their feet. Not only is almost none based on basic morality, almost none of it is based in sound economic principles either which, if implemented correctly, benefit all people. If economic stimulus is required “trickle up” is vastly more effective than “trickle down but if the economy is working properly almost no government intervention should be necessary.

    It is only when we do wrong that the economy suffers – a fact that people will, eventually, have to face as Western nations go increasingly into debt. Australia previously relied on the U.S for sovereign security but increasingly, because of massive debt, this is becoming less and less tenable.

    Bureaucracy is also, clearly, the least efficient and least productive method of charity and is clearly an intrinsic drain on the economy.

    The bible is clear about the need to work and you only need to see Labor now using exactly the same “trickle down” rationalization, as the LP once did, to support their corporate welfare payments to sporting/gambling organizations, to see how warped and corrupted the welfare system has become. Unfortunately ignorant people keep voting for this apparently completely unaware of the corruption they are facilitating.

    We certainly have a dire need in this nation for good teaching on the basics of morality but unfortunately, Australia has been completely defiled. I think the scriptures are clear as to where we are heading.

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