Everything you always wanted to know about the welfare state, but were afraid to ask

(Photo from Tom Gordon Palmer's Facebook page)

(Photo from Tom Gordon Palmer’s Facebook page)

I had the good fortune yesterday to attend a lunch at which Tom Gordon Palmer, a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute and an executive at the Atlas Network, was the guest speaker. In an entertaining, often amusing, and clear speech, Palmer introduced us to the realities of the welfare state.*

Palmer opened the “welfare state” portion of his talk by pointing out that, barring a few manifestly silly people, most people today don’t really believe in classic “socialism.” Instead, they support something equally pernicious: the welfare state. Indeed, the welfare state may be even worse than socialism because, by creating utterly dependent political constituencies in lands that are ostensibly democratic, it’s very difficult to correct or dismantle.

While the Romans may have had their bread and circuses, the modern welfare state started with Otto von Bismarck, who envisioned a world, not of bread and circuses, but of steel and blood. Bismarck was the original nationalist, imagining a people emotionally wedded to the state and financially dependent on it.

Palmer made clear that, from the beginning, the welfare state was not socialism.  Unlike socialism, Bismarck’s welfare state, which was the template for all future welfare states, did not disallow private property, which was needed to fund welfare, nor did it centrally control the economy, although it certainly meddled in the economy. The welfare state was essentially a form of bribery using social services, such as health, education, and welfare. The result could be summed up this way: “We, the state, gave you something you consider essential to your well-being. Now you owe us your political support and, if called upon, your military service.”

Bismarck’s opponents saw which way this would end. They feared (correctly) that the welfare state would result in “a nation of helots.” Instead of making people dependent on the state for social service handouts, the opponents wanted the state to fund individually-owned accounts, so that citizens would have an ownership interest in their well-being, as well as marketplace power to choose which services they wanted. The opponents lost.

This first welfare state became the template for Hitler’s fascist Nazi movement. Right until the end of the war, Hitler was an extremely popular leader because he kept giving the German people things. Indeed, in the beginning, the war, rather than causing Germans to get less from the state, actually enabled them to get more. We all know that Hitler confiscated everything that belonged to the Jews, including their teeth and hair, and handed all these things over to the German people as a right or entitlement flowing to them from the State, furthering their allegiance to the Nazi party.  What many don’t know is that Hitler’s troops also looted the treasures and treasuries of all occupied countries, sometimes through straightforward theft, and sometimes by devaluing the nation’s currency so that German troops were able to “purchase” goods for a fraction of their actual worth.

The Nazis were, to date, the most blood thirsty welfare state but, take away the whole bit about world domination and destroying “inferior” people, and you end up with a welfare state that pretty much looks like every other welfare state in the 21st century. According to Palmer, all welfare states share two common traits.

1. Welfare states use the PayGo or “Pay As You Go” method. On paper, PayGo sounds good: the government doesn’t run up a deficit to fund social welfare. Instead, it pays current expenses with current tax revenues. The government takes money from Taxpayer A and immediately hands it over to Welfare Recipient B. As long as there are more Taxpayers than Welfare Recipients, this system works. Problems start, however, when the balance shifts, so that there are more takers than givers.  This problem is inevitable because of a principle called “the tragedy of the commons.”

Imagine a pond with a finite number of slow-breeding fish. The sensible thing for the community is to set a quota on people’s fishing rights so as not to deplete the resource and to give it a chance to regenerate. The sensible thing for the individual, however, is to take advantage of whatever fish the pond has to offer, since he operates on the assumption that, if he doesn’t catch them, somebody else will. It’s this “if I don’t take it someone else will” mentality that permeates so much of the welfare state, with people lining up for handouts because they’re there — never mind that, with everybody lining up, takers will swiftly outnumber givers.  This is so because the takers will include large numbers of former givers who figured “why should I give when I can take?” and jumped in the welfare line.

As long as there are still givers, the system will limp on.  As their numbers decrease, the welfare state uses its coercive power to get more money out of them.  Eventually and inevitably, though, the golden goose is dead — the givers are broke and the nation’s wealth destroyed.  And when the system stops working, the last generation of givers, the ones who were promised that there was a “lock box” or “trust fund” into which their money would be waiting for them, get nothing back for their efforts.

If what I’ve described sounds familiar to you, it should: It’s a pyramid or Ponzi scheme. If someone does it in the business world, he goes to jail. If the entire United States government does it, the takers keep voting into power the political party that promises most sincerely to keep the Ponzi scheme afloat.

The other thing about a government Ponzi scheme that differs from a business Ponzi scheme is the temporal factor. A business Ponzi scheme quickly runs out of new investors.  A government scheme, however, reaches into the future, tagging unborn generations as mandatory contributors to an inherently corrupt economic plan.

2. Welfare states characterize the plan as one of “social rights.” Terminology matters. Privileges come and go, but rights are forever. Roosevelt knew this, which is why, in a 1944 speech, he announced a “second bill of rights” that perfectly encompasses all of the promises of the welfare state:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

Unlike the Founders, Roosevelt didn’t bother to convene a constitutional convention to make his new “bill of rights” official.  Instead, he relied on politician’s greed for votes to make it happen.  He knew that, if you give people things, they will vote for you.  The race was on for both parties to give voters the most things.  The only differences between the parties were the kind of things they would hand out and whether they wanted to pay for these things now or later.  The Democrats usually won this race, because they’d give everything and just put it on the government’s tab, to be paid at some indeterminate future date.

In addition to its permanence, there’s another advantage to a “right”:  It’s not charity, thereby bypassing opposition from people who might have moral objections to receiving charity. Of course, once the welfare system becomes entrenched, that moral generation quickly dies out.

What we’re see today in America is what happened in Greece, Italy, and Spain in the last few of years: The PayGO system is collapsing because the takers vastly outnumber the givers and, in any event, the givers have nothing left to give. Our current entitlement obligations — which are separate from government debt, because we’ve been stealing from the unborn, rather than borrowing from existing creditors — are somewhere in the range of at least $147 trillion.

Moreover, to the extent entitlements must be paid now using current revenues, entitlement spending is swamping government budgets across America. In California, for example, pension payments gobble up most of the state’s budget, leaving no money for other state expenditures, such as basic infrastructure maintenance or debt service.

What Palmer stressed is that, while the welfare state feels like socialism, because of the huge welfare transfer, it’s not socialism. We do not have a centrally managed economy or one without private ownership. What we have, instead, is a government playing a perverted Robin Hood game — it steals from those it decides are rich and gives to those whose votes it wants.

A perfect example of the speed with which the welfare state destroys the economy, said Palmer, is Italy. What few people know or remember is that Italy had a free market after WWII and, not coincidentally, had a huge economic boom, bigger even than Germany’s. That’s why the 1960s were the era of la dolce vita: Italians were young and their economy was vibrant. And that was the moment, in the 1960s, when do-gooders said, “We’re so rich, let’s spread the wealth.” Rather than setting up a true trust fund, or having people pay into their own lock box accounts, Italy set up a welfare state . . . and that was the beginning of the end.

One of the big downsides of the welfare state is that it always ends badly. True socialist economies actually can lateral over to a marketplace economy by having the government back off of economic management.  We’ve seen this in action in some former Soviet bloc countries, such as Latvia and Estonia. Dying welfare states, however, are corrupt from top to bottom, and are therefore more likely to end up as Nazi Germany. In Greece, for example, the public is being torn two ways, both equally evil:  Marxist and Neo-Nazi groups are growing fast.  The latter are every bit as violently antisemitic as the original Nazis were (never mind that there are almost no Jews in Greece).

The absence of Jews within their borders is not a problem for nascent Neo-Nazi movements in bankrupt welfare states.  Indeed, image conscious Neo-Nazis in places as diverse as Greece and Hungary try not to use the word “Jews” (unless they’re talking about the evil Zionist Jews in Israel, of course). Instead, they talk about “New York financial interests” or “dirty foreigners coming to get our social benefits.”

As to that last point, Palmer pointed out that the “dirty foreigners” are on the bottom of the Ponzi scheme pyramid, paying in more than they’ll ever get out. (And no, I don’t know whether he was referring to the Turkish, Algerian, and Moroccan workers all over Europe when he said this, or only to America’s self-imported immigrants from Mexico.)

Because welfare states always bankrupt themselves, default is inevitable. In America, this bankruptcy, which is roughly 20 years in the future, can take three forms: (1) default on the national debt, which is unlikely; (2) a change in the welfare formula (later retirement, death panels, etc.), which is more likely; and (3) inflation, which is most likely and completely disastrous, because it destroys a nation’s wealth, as well as destroying individual lives along the way.

And speaking of wealth, Palmer says that there are two alternatives to a crash. The first is self-help and wealth-creation, which is achieved through secure property rights; a reliable, relatively un-corrupt legal system; and free trade. As an example of this method in action, Palmer told us about Kakha Bendukidze, the man who saved the Republic of Georgia during his tenure as Minister of Economy, Minister for Reform Coordination, and Head of the Chancellery of Government of Georgia. My notes are scrambled about Bendukidze’s acts (they just say “wiped out most of the government”), so let me quote Wikipedia:

He is known as a committed libertarian and strong supporter of market economy, deregulation and privatization, stating that the Georgian government should sell everything except its honor. During 2004-2007, under his leadership, Georgia became the top-reforming country in the world, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business report. In particular, Georgia jumped from 137 to 11 on the ease of doing business scale, ahead of Germany and France.

Since the weakening of the democratic credentials of the Saakashvili government after the police crackdown of the 2007 protests, the government has put the stress on his successful economic reforms. Bendukidze was pivotal in the libertarian reforms launched under Saakashvili, including one of the least restrictive labour codes, the lowest flat income tax rates (12%) and some of the lowest customs rates worldwide, along with the drastic reduction of necessary licenses and permits for business.

In addition to his wildly successful economic reforms, Bendukidze cracked down on rampant corruption and brutality in Georgia’s police force. He did it by doing away with the police entirely, including their buildings, which were filled with windowless, blood-stained “interrogation” rooms. When people objected, he said “If you’re sitting in a dark room and you turn off the lights, does it get darker?” In other words, if the police are themselves a crime problem, getting rid of them probably won’t increase crime. Bendukidze then built up a whole new police force, housed in buildings with windows into every room.

The second alternative to default and collapse is mutual aid societies. America used to be filled with them, although the young generation probably has never heard of them. We oldsters knew them as the Elks, the Shriners, the Freemasons, etc. [Update:  I forgot to add that, the only real surviving mutual aid society in America, according to Palmer, is Alcoholics Anonymous.]  These societies had deep roots, going back to Roman burial societies. They were voluntary associations, complete with codes of conducts and secret rituals, that bound people tightly together. They transcended class. The local gentry would rub shoulders with the butcher and baker as they went through their Masonic or Shriner rituals.

The mutual aid societies had funds into which everyone paid (presumably on a sliding scale, giving their egalitarian membership). These funds would then be disbursed to members in need. Because small, social groups managed the funds, they kept track of the deserving poor versus the undeserving poor. The latter did not get access to these emergency funds. The societies also kept track of moral hazard issues: people were socially pressured to avoid dangerous behaviors that could deplete the funds.

Welfare states hate mutual aid societies because they are the antithesis of big government (whether in the form of socialism or the welfare state). In England, the Fabians, who wanted socialism without bloodshed, used sneaky legislation to destroy these societies.

In 1911, the Fabians got the government to enact the National Health Act. Before the act, a mutual aid society member might voluntarily pay a small amount of money every month into the communal pot.  In exchange, he and his family would get access to perhaps seven different doctors, kind of like an HMO.  The National Health Act mandated that all citizens pay a proportional tax to the government, in exchange for which they’d get access to their original seven doctors, plus perhaps five more. Rather than paying twice for the same benefit, Brits ended their voluntary associations and paid only the coerced tax. (Does this sound familiar to you?) Once all of the voluntary associations were gone, Britain went to the next step, which was to socialize medicine. (I swear that this sounds familiar to me, and I’m talking about recent history, not events overseas in the 20th century.)

At this point in Palmer’s talk, I ran out of paper and began to write in microscopic script that I can no longer read. I can tell you, though, that it is possible to back away from the precipice towards which we’re speeding. As an example, Palmer pointed to Canada which had, as he said, an “adult discussion” about the coming economic collapse. Intelligent, numerate politicians from the center left and center right identified the problems, talked about solutions, and cut Canada’s indebtedness by 50%.

Palmer repeatedly stressed the necessity of having a bipartisan discussion. If Republicans get hold of government, their reforms will be as suspect to 50% of Americans as the Democrats’ “reforms” were. Moreover, as the Bush presidency showed, Republicans with the bit in their teeth spend almost as much as Democrats do, although they use the money to woo different constituencies.  Only divided government slows government spending. The bipartisan aspect of any discussion about avoiding default is the equivalent, I think, along the lines of the fact that it takes two thieves to strike an honest bargain.

(Let me just add here that, when it comes to Republican spending, Palmer expressed his distaste for neocons who, he believes, substitute nationalism for socialism, with equally bad social and economic results. He cited David Brooks as an example, since David Brooks wants to spend lots of money on all sorts of Big Government things that aggrandize America. I agree that Brooks is wrong, but I don’t see him as a neocon. He’s simply a leftie who likes America.)

The problem today with that bipartisan strategy, says Palmer, is the lack of numerate adults in politics, especially among the Democrats.  There were numerate Democrats in the Clinton administration, but Obama’s administration is composed completely of ideologues who are uninterested in facts.

Finally, I see scrawled in my notes the word Putin. Putin, says Palmer, is a pure National Socialist. Those who know him say he’s also a stone-cold killer, who will, without blinking, kill people who stand in the way of his political vision (while ignoring those who don’t). Like Hitler, he uses social welfare to buy people. Like Hitler, he has dreams of vast geographic expansion, with occupied states funding his social welfare. And like Hitler, he’s found a scapegoat which, in Putin’s case, is homosexuals. Putin’s war against homosexuals ratchets up daily, to the point at which it’s somewhere around 1935 for homosexuals unlucky enough to be in Putin’s Russia.

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*I’m basing this post on my scribbled notes, so I apologize in advance if I’ve erred here. I’m sending a copy of this post to Tom Gordon Palmer, so that he can correct me if I put the wrong words in his mouth or, worse, mangled his ideas.

What is our obligation to those who make bad decisions?

wic3One of the things I’ve tried to drill into my children is the truism that the single biggest indicator of poverty is single motherhood.  That data, incidentally, does not reflect the old-fashioned kind of single motherhood, which was the result of widowhood or abandonment.  Instead, we’re talking about modern single motherhood, the kind that sees women who are deluged with birth control choices nevertheless get pregnant with boyfriends or hook-ups who feel no emotional connection or sense of economic obligation to either mother or baby.

One of my children has a part-time job at a cafe and is, for the first time, meeting adults who have full-time jobs but who aren’t middle-class professionals living in single family homes in solidly upper middle class neighborhoods.  One of these adults is pregnant and is unhappy about the fact that the cafe, where she’s been working for only five months, will not give her maternity leave.

Inquiry revealed that the pregnant woman is not married; that she’s living with a boyfriend who may or may not be the father of her child (my kid doesn’t know), and that the boyfriend doesn’t work.  Except for getting regular nooky at night (assuming that the pregnant woman still wants that kind of attention), the mother-to-be will be, for all practical purposes, a single mother.

My child found it concerning that the boss won’t pay this single mother not to work for him.  My child was therefore stymied when I asked this question:  “Why should he pay for her foolish choices?”

I noted that, while it’s entirely possible that this woman was using enough birth control to protect six woman, and nevertheless still managed to get pregnant, the greater likelihood was that she was careless. Indeed, if she really wanted to protect against single motherhood, she could have abstained from sex until she had a ring on her finger and some economic prospects.

I threw in the fact that it’s incredibly costly to do business in California, especially in the food service industry, which have extremely low profit margins.  Employers generally are drowning in regulations, which makes businesses very expensive to run.  Add in taxes and all the other costs of business (rent, insurance, salaries, benefits, supplies, etc.), and it’s guaranteed that the employer is clearing just enough money for his personal expenses (mortgage, insurance, food, etc.).  This owner is almost certainly not living extravagantly but is, instead, living a very temperate life.

Much of the money that the federal and state government are taking away from this man, both from his business and from him personally, is going to welfare programs for single mothers, something this employer must know.  Since he’s already paying for the welfare this young woman will inevitably end up using, why should he pay twice by carrying her on the books even though she’s contributing nothing to his business?  Even if he was feeling charitable, the government has left him nothing with which to be charitable,  not to mention the fact that the government, by snatching money from his pockets, has already decided on his behalf which charities he should support — including economically foolish single motherhood.

Such a simple question:  “Why should he pay for her foolish choices, when the government is already taxing him heavily in advance to pay for all the foolish choices of intentionally single mothers across America”?

 

Democrats: Using band-aid remedies to “cure” systemic failures

bandaid-2One of the mantras to emerge from feminist side of the Leftist swamps during the late 1960s/early 1970s was notion that “the personal is political.”  As used by the feminists, it meant that, when suburban women got together to burn their bras, examine their genitals in mirrors, and gripe about patriarchal oppression, they weren’t just engaging in the updated version of coffee klatches.  Instead, this “consciousness raising” was a political act because the conclusions they reached would drive their politics.

As is so often the case when it comes to manipulating the political process, the Leftists were onto something.  No matter what they say, most people don’t approach issues through education and analysis, nor do they abandon ideas just because those ideas actually fail when they finally leave the analysis phase and become operational.  Instead, most people are driven by emotion:  Do I feel like a good person when I do this?  Is the beneficiary of my political act a good person?  And the contrary is true too:  Am I punishing an “evil” person if I vote or act in a specific way (since punishing an “evil” person elevates my “goodness” quotient).

I’m not saying anything all of you haven’t already figured out.  The only reason I mention this is because I’m struggling with the way in which I can counter a compelling, hard Left HBO documentary that my daughter saw, one that has left her inclined to believe that the welfare state is the answer.  The documentary is “Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert.”

Maria Shriver, who produced the documentary, chose well when she and her team selected Gilbert as the poster child for single mothers, since Gilbert is a very sympathetic woman.  She got married at 19 (no out-of-wedlock children here) and had three children with her husband.  Unfortunately, her husband was addicted to prescription drugs (no tawdry illegal meth addiction here), wrecking the family finances and destroying their marriage.  The show picks up with Gilbert now in her mid-20s, working hard for $9.49 an hour at an assisted living center for the elderly.  She’s able to do this work because her children attend a government-funded pre-K daycare center in their hometown of Chattanooga.  Further, this loving mother puts food on the table only thanks to the food stamps.

As Alfred Doolittle would have said, Gilbert is definitely among the deserving poor.  When you see Gilbert — who did the right thing when she married her children’s father — struggling to cope with sick children and a flooded house (her boyfriend’s house), you can’t help but feel sympathetic.  You want to help her.  You want her to earn more money considering how hard she works and you want her to have better childcare opportunities.  And you think to yourself, “Heck, if she  lived in Denmark, none of this would be a problem.  (In part, of course, because Denmark’s young people aren’t having children to begin with.)  Gilbert would get free child care, a high living wage, all the benefits in the world, and be able to take endless sick days for her kids, as well as for herself.”

When the documentary ends, by which time you’re firmly rooting for Gilbert, the film hits you with the real numbers.  Gilbert, we’re told, isn’t an anomaly.  She’s part of a crowd:  According to the documentary, Gilbert is the living embodiment of the 42 million women in America who live at or below the poverty line, along with (I believe) 28 million children.  The documentary doesn’t have to say what we need to do.  It’s quite obvious that we ought to raise the minimum wage, make free childcare available to all American children, and provide comprehensive welfare for food and housing.

In case you’re too dim to reach this conclusion by yourself, HBO helpfully provides a guide for you to read alone or discuss with a group.  Some of what you’re supposed to discuss involves smart choices women can make.  Other discussion ideas, though, encourage Big Government as a solution, and advance a highly partisan Progressive agenda:

The Chambliss Center [pre-K childcare] is very important for Katrina. When she picks up her children she says, “The kids are learning so much here. If I went to a normal day care center, it would cost me $300 per week for all three of my children …that’s a whole paycheck.” Child care expenses for families with working mothers can range from 20 to nearly 50% of the mother’s monthly salary. How do you think Katrina would function if her kids weren’t at the Chambliss Center? Do you know anyone who is struggling with childcare needs? What can we as a society do to help? How important is it that the Chambliss Center operates 24/7?

Numerous studies have shown the long-term benefits of high-quality early education for young learners. However, fewer than 30% of American 4-year olds attend high quality preschool programs. President Obama expressed his support for universal high-quality preschool and many states have been developing universal pre-K legislation and programs. What do you think are some of the advantages and disadvantages to government sponsored universal pre-Kindergarten programs?

[snip]

What did you know before about federal programs like Head Start, food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit? Has this changed after viewing the film?

What are the social services in your area for families in need of financial assistance? Do you think it’s not enough, or too much? How are they affected by budget decisions at the State and Federal level? Do you think people are aware of what government programs provide? How do you think people feel about receiving assistance? Can you think of other programs that could be helpful to women on the brink?

The study guide ends with a list of resources, the second of which is the hard Left Center for American Progress, which some describe as the “shadow Democrat party,” and which sets the agenda for many of the Obama administration initiatives.  People troubled by the hardships Gilbert faces will quickly learn that Big Government is the only thing that can save her.

After my daughter saw the show, she was pretty sure that we ought to have more free education for the pre-K crowd, more free daycare, more free food, and mandated higher wages.  She was certainly correct that each of these things would have been an immediate benefit to Gilbert.  My task was to get my daughter to see that these are all band-aid remedies that might staunch small individual wounds, but will  not stop the fatal hemorrhaging in the American economy.

The problem I had is that there’s nothing sexy about free market fixes.  They’re abstract and the benefits fall randomly, rather than on specific, targeted people, such as Gilbert.  It’s this last fact that means that market reforms cannot guarantee immediate — or, indeed, any — aid to sympathetic figures such as Gilbert.

People who watch the documentary want Gilbert to be fixed immediately and her personal life becomes an overarching political argument.  When I said that single motherhood is the biggest dividing line between rich and poor, my daughter pointed out that Gilbert had her children within a marriage.  When I said mothers should stay married if at all possible, she pointed out that Gilbert’s husband was a drug addict who destroyed finances, so staying together was not an option.  When I said that education is important, she noted that Gilbert was trying to go back to school, but could do so only with government help.

My prescriptions were a free market (as opposed to the over-regulated market we now have), which has proven repeatedly to provide increased economic opportunities for everyone, not just government cronies; education, marriage, and children, in that order; and sticking with a bad marriage, provided that it’s not violent or otherwise abusive, because that is the best way to avoid poverty for both women and children.  My daughter’s prescriptions after getting a close-up look at Gilbert’s sympathetic struggles were Big Government.

I didn’t increase my sympathy quotient when I explained to her that there will always be poor people, no matter the system.  (In North Korea, outside of government circles, everyone is poor.)  In a strong, free-market, capitalist system, fewer people will be poor and even poor people will do better than in non-capitalist countries.  For example, I said, while Gilbert is struggling by American standards, the reality is that she shares a big house with her boyfriend, complete with a modern kitchen and nice electronics; she has government-subsidized food; she owns a car; and she has a smart phone, as do all the other adults in her low-income world.  It’s almost ludicrous to call her experience “poverty” when one looks at poverty in Brazil or India or Cuba or North Korea or large swathes of Africa.  Yes, she’s struggling, but life is struggle.

ThornsIt would be lovely to give an economic band-aid to the hardworking Gilbert.  But when the Democrats demand 42 million band-aids for all the other single mothers, you’ve got a problem.  If the body politic or body economic really were a body, this would be the scenario:  The American body (we’ll call it Sam) gets entangled in economic brambles, and poor Sam ends up bleeding from millions of scratches on his arms and legs.  He looks at the scratches and thinks, “Yikes, I need some band-aids.”  Fortunately for him, a mobile blood bank rolls by and offers to buy almost all of his blood in exchange for 42 million single-use band-aids.

Sam is delighted with this offer.  He’ll be able to stop the blood flow, even though he’s probably giving to the bank almost as much blood as he’s losing to the cuts.  What Sam ignores is that, when the bandages are applied and the mobile blood bank rolls away, he’ll still be stuck in those brambles.

Economic reality says that, if you’re mired in brambles, you don’t sell all your blood for band-aids, while remaining deep in the thorns.  Instead, you first get out of the brambles Only then do you deal with the worst cuts, ignore the rest, and get down to the business of regaining your health and staying away the brambles that got you into trouble in the first place.

None of the above is sexy.  Advocating a free market capitalist economy so that there will be fewer poor people is not sexy.  Encouraging marriage, even unhappy marriages, for the sake of the children is not sexy.  Acknowledging that there will always be poor people and they will always suffer is not sexy.  And trying to explain that, in a healthy economy, fewer people are poor and fewer people remain poor isn’t sexy.  Appearing to turn your back on the Gilbert’s of the world isn’t only un-sexy, it appears downright sadistic.  And explaining that economic reality means that it’s impossible to be, simultaneously, both a comprehensive welfare state and a thriving free market is un-sexy too.  (Not to mention the fact that you have to explain that Europe managed to have a welfare state with a capitalist gloss only because America paid for Europe’s defense during the long Cold War years.)

I’ve described one show and one child who was moved Left by its message.  However, this close, personal focus is a chronic issue when dealing with the Left.  To gain sympathy for its larger agenda, the Left always focuses on the one child who’s illegal immigrant father is deported (although never the one child whose redneck father goes to jail following drunken revelry); or the one single mother who did all the right things; or the one single Gitmo detainee who was a mere child when the Taliban forced him to kill Americans.  The focus is always tight, obscuring the rest of the message.

I mentioned the other day that Ben Shapiro has written an excellent book about arguing with Leftists, How to Debate Leftists and Destroy Them, which you can get free by registering at Truth Revolt. The book presupposes an argument. My question is how does one challenge this type of gooey, emotional propaganda, which gains a wide television audience and promises that the world can be healed, one government band-aid at a time?

The Progressives’ worst mistake is thinking that they know what others want

Homeless woman (photo by dbking)At a certain level, all of us are solipsistic, in that we inevitably exist at the enter of our own universe.  As it is with individuals, so it is with belief systems.  Whether we like it or not, we assume that our way is the way to do things.  That others would do things a different way is invariably a surprise (although, as is the case with Dutch chocolate, often a pleasant surprise).

One of the things that distinguishes the mature mind from the immature mind is the ability to recognize that your way isn’t always the right way.  Sometimes the other person’s (or nation’s) way is fine, even if it seems inadequate.

(As a side note, I’m not discussing moral absolutes here.  I think we’re entitled to be solipsistic about certain moral absolutes, such as “cold-blooded murder is wrong,” cold-blooded stealing is wrong,” “child-beating is wrong.”  Even there, though, we do make distinctions.  Cold-blooded murder is wrong, but we are open to extenuating circumstances.  Cold-blooded stealing is wrong, but it’s probably okay if you’re starving and steal food.  Child-beating is always wrong, of course, except that some describe “beating” as a slap on the butt with a hand, while others describe it as using a child’s head as a battering ram against a wall.  All decent people oppose the second; many decent people, myself included, do not consider that the first constitutes a “beating.”)

Outside of moral absolutes (or moral somewhat absolutes), what remains are behaviors and beliefs.  It’s here that we all fall prey to believing our way is best.  Where conservatives and Progressives differ, though, is that, while conservatives believe their choices are best, they do not believe that it is up to government to impose those choices on others.  They prefer persuasion to coercion. Progressives, however, are sufficiently self-righteous (or emotionally immature) that they believe that they must impose their ways upon others.

What got me thinking about this was a discussion I had with my sister about a couple of homeless men she and her husband have befriended (don’t ask).  Both men are enthusiastically homeless.  They get government checks, but are incapable of — and, more importantly, hostile to — embracing a middle class lifestyle.

The two men live near a city in a somewhat rural area.  They can bike to amenities, but live in a homeless encampment in the woods (which means they offer minimal inconvenience to the bulk of the city’s residents).  One of them built a teeny, portable wooden structure in which he lives, and powers the TV, the lights, the radio, and the electric cook stove with solar panels.  The other dwells in a tent and mooches happily off friends.  They get water from a nearby water pipe that the city makes available to the encampment.  They get free food from various charities, and spend their government checks on food and drugs.

From my middle class, suburban perch, they live a terrible life.  From their point of view, though, they’re free men who have all their needs met:  shelter, food, chemical stimulants.  They don’t want anything more.  Both are a little loopy (one has a mildly aggressive paranoia, while the other believes he communes with alien beings), but neither is rendered dysfunctional by those “quirks.”  They are free to be themselves.  They don’t miss hot showers, and La-Z-Boys, and cars, and the internet, and X-Boxes, and all of the other things with which we fill our lives.  Nor do they miss health insurance, which means that they’re in sync with previously uninsured Oregonians who got Medicaid.  When they’re sick, that’s what the ER is for.  They like that status quo and, despite living in a state that’s embraced government medicine, they refuse to join up.

I thought of these two men when James Taranto pointed out a Fox-Butterfield moment in the San Francisco Comical:

Fox Butterfield, Is That You?
“San Francisco spends $165 million a year on services for homeless people, but all that money hasn’t made a dent in the homeless population in at least nine years.”–Heather Knight, San Francisco Chronicle, March 12

San Francisco has long spent exorbitant sums on the homeless because the Progressive government believes that it can bribe, cajole or co-opt the homeless into adopting a middle class lifestyle.  The experience of 30 years of failure has only convinced the Progressives that they need to spend more.  They cannot comprehend that, while there are people amongst the homeless population who are genuinely down on their luck and need a hand, there are many amongst the homeless who affirmatively embrace that lifestyle.  They are homeless,  not because we (society) have failed them, but because they like the freedom that comes with homelessness.  They have no amenities, but they have no obligations either.

Progressives aren’t insane, notwithstanding the oft-repeated definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”  Solipsism isn’t insanity.  It is, instead, a failure of imagination and an emotional immaturity that makes it impossible for a person or belief system to accept other attitudes and desires.

The opposite of gratitude is entitlement

BeggingMy Mom is living off the proceeds from selling her house, my Dad’s small pension, and her equally small social security checks.  She is not flush with cash but, thanks to having owned a house in San Francisco, even with today’s minimal interest rates, she still has enough to last her for a few years.  In addition, Mom’s first cousin, who is very wealthy, generously sends my mom a nice check every Christmas.  This last one is, of course, purely a gift.  The fact that it is a gift, however, did not stop Mom from calling me today (the checks are sent to my address) to ask, “Did she send a big check?  You know, she owes me a lot of money?”

That reminded me, of course, of the Jewish joke about the beggar who sits outside an office building.  Every Monday, a businessman working in the building makes it a point to give the beggar $10.  This goes on for quite some time but, one Monday, things change.  Instead of handing the beggar a $10 bill, the businessman hands the beggar a $5 bill.

“What’s this?” asks the surprised beggar.  “You always give me $10.”

“I’m sorry,” the man replies, “but business has been very bad lately.”

To which the beggar responds, “Just because your business is bad, I should suffer?”

Too many people, my mother included, lack a sense of gratitude and operate purely from a sense of entitlement.  This is something worth thinking about when it comes to America’s welfare policies.

Drug tests for welfare recipients

Urine Sample

A little while ago, I wrote about the people who are permanent residents on welfare because of drug abuse issues.  My point was that while they appear like a natural Democrat constituency, the fact is that most of them are too dysfunctional to vote.

Here’s another perspective on that particular class of welfare recipient:

I have a job.

I work, they pay me.

I pay my taxes & the government distributes my taxes as it sees fit.

In order to get that paycheck, in my case, I am required to pass a random urine test (with which I have no problem).

What I do have a problem with is the distribution of my taxes to people who don’t have to pass a urine test.

So, here is my question: Shouldn’t one have to pass a urine test to get a welfare check because I have to pass one to earn it for them?

Please understand, I have no problem with helping people get back on their feet. I do, on the other hand, have a problem with helping someone sitting on their BUTT—-doing drugs while I work….

Can you imagine how much money each state would save if people had to pass a urine test to get a public assistance check?

I guess we could call the program “URINE OR YOU’RE OUT”!

Pass this along if you agree or simply delete if you don’t. Hope you all will pass it along, though. Something has to change in this country – AND SOON!

P.S. Just a thought, all politicians should have to pass a urine test too! They should also have to pass an intelligence test, a common sense test and an understanding the constitution test, as well!!! Remember November 2014 is coming.

Hat tip:  Caped Crusader

Problems with Obamacare exchanges are a feature, not a bug

Avik Roy advances a very interesting theory about the disastrous Obamacare exchange.

First of all, you need to think about  how it works compared to other online shopping sites.  At all other sites, you find your product, and then you submit your information.  At Obamacare, you must submit your information before you’re allowed to go shopping for your product.  It’s this information demand that has made a poorly constructed design collapse under the weight of even a relatively small number of visitors.  So why was it built bass ackwards?  Because it’s not really a free market exchange.

Here’s the deal:  prices across the board have increased for insurance as insurers struggle to deal with the fact that they cannot scale prices depending on risk (which is, after all, what real insurance does) and because they are now required to offer a ton of services, whether consumers want to pay for them or not.  Congress knew that this would happen, but it didn’t care.  The real purpose behind Obamacare was to get the haves to pay for the have nots.  The haves will take the high prices and like them . . . or else.  But the have nots cannot be allowed to see the high prices lest they run away screaming.  The reality for them is that, as have nots, their increased prices will be subsidized — and then some — by the haves.  Everyone has to be fed into the system for this wealth transfer to work:

So, by analyzing your income first, if you qualify for heavy subsidies, the website can advertise those subsidies to you instead of just hitting you with Obamacare’s steep premiums. For example, the site could advertise plans that “$0″ or “$30″ instead of explaining that the plan really costs $200, and you’re getting a subsidy of $200 or $170. But you’ll have to be at or near the poverty line to gain subsidies of that size; most people will either not qualify for a subsidy, or qualify for a small one that, net-net, doesn’t make up for the law’s cost hikes.

This political objective—masking the true underlying cost of Obamacare’s insurance plans—far outweighed the operational objective of making the federal website work properly. Think about it the other way around. If the “Affordable Care Act” truly did make health insurance more affordable, there would be no need to hide these prices from the public.

Read the rest here.  And then, if you haven’t already, read Zombie’s post catching the SF Chronicle offering a remarkable piece of job advice.

Obamacare: Come join the welfare state

When I read John McWhorter’s superb Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, I learned something I hadn’t known before. Outside of the Jim Crow South, in the years leading up to the Civil Rights movement, black people were very slowly, but still steadily, moving into the middle class. They had stable nuclear families, with working fathers. The Civil Rights movement should have accelerated this trend by removing barriers to black employment.

But something happened at the same time as the Civil Rights movement, and that “something” was Johnson’s Great Society. Burdened by white guilt, and holding welfare checks, well-meaning whites fanned out through black communities and told black men to stop working. Black men had been slaves for too long, they said, and it was time for the government to pay them back. When the men spoke of pride, and manliness, and responsibility, they were told not to let their pride stand in the way of getting what was “owed” them.

The result was inevitable: black men quickly became useful only for sex and procreation. The government stepped in as the family breadwinner. Women with children didn’t have to rely on a man who might do everything from drinking and beating her to leaving the toilet seat up, and men were able to get sex without the burden of fatherhood. Blacks became the only minority group in America that was perpetually mired in the lowest societal echelons. This was not the case for other, equally reviled groups, such as Irish Catholics, Jews, Italians, Asians, or the first generation of Hispanics. (It is somewhat true for the current generation of Hispanics, who have also been seduced into believing that the state should be the pater familias.) Asians who immigrated after the 1960s probably avoided the welfare trap only because they came from Communist countries and had experienced a surfeit of government “largesse.”

If you want to see the end result of the hard-driving government effort to place blacks on welfare, you need only see this video (which I call “All attitude; no gratitude”):

Now that I’ve given you some background into the scourge of a government’s unconstrained push to get citizens onto welfare, you are ready to read Zombie’s article about the advice the San Francisco Comical, er, Chronicle, offers to people trying to figure out how to deal with Obamacare.  It’s time to be very, very afraid for America.

Differing views of Obama’s latest welfare edict

Conservatives, generally, and Romney, specifically, had a field day when the Obama administration unilaterally changed the welfare rules so that work is no longer a requirement for receiving welfare.  Given Obama’s propensity for using executive orders and administrative rules to ignore both legislative and judicial precedent, this seemed like a gift from Heaven to those trying to highlight this ugly, unconstitutional habit.

The Left, of course, is not happy with the way Romney is gaining traction based on this welfare rule change.  At the New Republic, Ed Kilgore makes a very good argument claiming that Romney is lying through his teeth with his ads challenging Obama’s welfare “reform.”  Indeed, after I read the Kilgore article, I started thinking “Have conservatives overreached, just as Obama’s PAC/Obama did with the ‘Romney killed a woman with cancer’ ad?  After all, trust is a very precious commodity, and one that can only be squandered if you’ve got the entire MSM covering for you.”

Immediately after reading Kilgore, though, Robert Rector’s National Review article explaining why the administration’s changes to the welfare rules are so dastardly.  Although Rector makes no mention of, and was clearly not rebutting Kilgore, reading the two articles was  It was point and counterpoint, punch and counter-punch.   think Rector carries the day.  I’d actually written a long post comparing the two, and explaining why I thought Rector’s was the more compelling argument — and then my computer crashed and I lost everything, including the stuff I thought I’d saved in draft form.  I’m currently too disheartened to retype the whole darn thing.

I’ll say this, though — Kilgore’s argument boils down to three points:  (1) Republicans never cared about work, but only cared about destroying welfare queens; (2) per the memo accompanying the rule change, all that the administration is doing is increasing flexibility, which is a good thing; (3) Republican governors have asked for this flexibility; and (4) to the extent Romney says that the changes do anything but increase flexibility (such as, for example, gut the work requirement) that’s a lie.

Rector’s argument, too, can be boiled down:  (1) It was the Republicans who drafted the work requirement element of the welfare reform they forced upon a reluctant Democrat president; (2) Democrats have spent years trying to gut the work requirement; (3) the cover memo on which Kilgore relies is a great example of speak Right, government Left; and (4) the actual changes to the rules mean that the administration has now given itself unfettered power over welfare, trumping any state power to control, including the assurance that no one can be denied welfare, regardless of whether or not that person is working or intends to work.

I’d be interested in your reading of the two articles, as well as your take on the change to welfare based upon anything else you may have read or on your own personal knowledge of the subject.

They trusted their welfare to the Government

I am standing Hwy 2, passing through the Blackfoot “Res” in Montana. What I see before me doesn’t look like much, a scrubby field under low hills and Montana’s incredibly beautiful big sky.

Where I am standing is the former site of the Badger Creek Indian Agency, where the Blackfeet Indians gathered after their buffalo had been slaughtered and the government promised them food and support in exchange for having given up their independence and self reliance.

By the winter of 1883-1884, however, the government had really, really screwed up. The Indians’ own source of meat (buffalo, deer, elk) had been destroyed. Their limited crops had failed. Their limited livestock was depleted. They were running out of food.

Since 1881, Indian agent John Young’s repeated requests to the government for more food aid had been met with bureaucratic indifference. Frankly, the “government” didn’t care very much and there were budget constraints that had to be met.

Then, in the winter of 1883-1884, the inevitable happened: starvation came. By the time the world outside the reservation heard about it, one quarter of the population (600 Indians) had already starved to death. The surrounding Montana communities responded immediately, sending relief trains of emergency food, livestock and blankets to the Blackfeet survivors. The government, by contrast, did nothing. After the fact, they held hearings, absolved themselves of responsibility and, finally, blamed Indian Agent John Young for gross negligence.

This is a story to keep in mind for all those that believe that it is somehow a good idea to surrender their independence and self-reliance to a faceless entity called “government”. Whether it is welfare, social security, Medicare or Obamacare, I can guarantee this: the government will screw up through indifference and people will die. Not because government is “bad” or that the people in government are “bad”, but because people are people and government can never be better than our collective human nature. And, once stripped of our independence and self-reliance, there will be no recourse. We will not be able to rely upon surrounding communities to rush to our aid.

Obama, the welfare president

Newt Gingrich was pilloried for calling Obama the Food Stamp president.  “Racist!” cried the usual suspects.  Huh?  Yes, racist, because food stamps are a form of welfare, welfare is traditionally associated with blacks, so Newt was reminding people that Obama is white-black  (as if the MSM ever allows us to forget that), and that he’s pandering to other blacks, white-blacks, brown-blacks, yellow-blacks, pink-blacks, blue-blacks, etc.

Just the other day, however, another politician went on record calling Obama a Food Stamp president, and his pronouncement was met with stunning MSM indifference.  You see, the man making this statement was black (or maybe, looking at the image, a kind of golden-brown-black) and the statement, rather than being derogatory (“Look what he’s reduced Americans to”) was laudatory:

Here’s the key language:

“We’re headed in the right direction. Unemployment continues to drop and those people who are unemployed, they’re not going to be voting for the party who wants to cut their benefits, cut access to food stamps, cut job training,” Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA) said on MSNBC’s Al Sharpton program.

“The idea that Republicans are trying to help those who are unemployed is nonsense and I think that on this election day, those who have a job can credit the administration for stabilizing our economy and those who don’t know that this administration is trying to put them to work,” he said.

Yay, Obama!  He’s the welfare president!  Four more years!  Four more years!  The dream has almost been realized:

It was the most memorable time of my life. It was a touching moment because I never thought this day would ever happen. I won’t have to worry about putting gas in my car. I won’t have to worry about paying my mortgage. You know, if I help him, he’s gonna help me.