Monday, September 22, 2014

Entitlement reform: an attitude problem?

I came across an article at Legal Insurrection titled 'Why I’m against drug testing for unemployment benefits and food stamps'.  Here's an excerpt.

Our attitude on limiting public assistance is all wrong, and so is the way we talk about it. There’s any underlying assumption and I’d argue in many cases, arrogance on the right, that everyone on public assistance is lazy or entitled, and so we treat them as though they’re undeserving or unworthy of public charity. We complain there’s an entire generation living off entitlements, yet show no interest in helping them to a place where they can succeed. We are not taking measures to address the reasons why people are on public assistance, we just don’t want them there.

. . .

... enrolling citizenry in a public assistance plan without providing a means of escape helps no one.

We all too easily take the road of judgment rather than reaching out to help those less fortunate saying people should just “Get a job!” And while the statement is correct, the attitude is not only personally destructive, but politically devastating. For all the criticism on the right to “Get a job!” what are we doing collectively to provide a solution?

Of course the answer should be simple: the private sector and local communities and charities should be there to offer this type of aid because it’s not the government’s job, but where are we to fill in the holes where both government and the private sector fails?

There are people who have never been told they’re valuable and that they have purpose in life. They’ve never been told it’s possible to excel or to change their circumstances. All they know is the life that surrounds them, in many cases, that’s a life smothered by poverty, violence, and drugs. It’s in these situations we should be showing compassion, assistance, and imparting the values of self respect, hard work, and the belief they too, can achieve whatever they believe to be possible.

There's more at the link.

I disagree almost completely with the author's perspective as expressed in that excerpt.  The problem, as I see it, is one of the basic attitude of many people in the First World.  They feel entitled to protection, assistance, etc. - from the private sector, from charities, from government, whatever.  Too many of us blindly accept this 'entitlement principle' without stopping to ask why anyone should be entitled to such support.

I begin as one who's lived and worked in Third World environments for almost half my life.  There's very little in the way of such support there.  If you don't or can't work, you're dependent on the support of your extended family.  I've known a dozen adults live on the meager wages brought in by a quarter of their number.  No-one has any luxuries.  The food is as basic as it can get, and there's never enough of it.  They'll sleep bundled together, shivering under one or two thin undersized blankets in the winter cold.  During the summer they'd love to sleep further apart, to stay cool, but in the one- or two-roomed hut or township hovel they share, there's not enough space for that - and sleeping outside carries its own dangers.  Some of the unemployed will cook, clean and look after the kids.  Others will forage in the surrounding bush, or go through other people's garbage looking for something to eat or wear or use or sell.  A few will go the rounds, trying to find a job doing anything from shoveling human excrement to disposing of animal waste products at the local (unlicensed, unsanitary, unsafe and disease-ridden) slaughterhouse.

Note that I didn't say a word about social workers, or child protection programs, or welfare, or anything like that.  Those programs don't exist for such people.  If you told these folks that in America, the poorest people almost all had access to such support, and in addition lived in multi-room dwellings, and most had TV's and sofa's and cars . . . they'd cheerfully do anything they could, up to and including committing wholesale murder, to come here and live in such comparative affluence.  It would represent wealth beyond their wildest dreams.

As a result, they know their future is in their own hands, and theirs alone.  They get by with hard work and stoic courage, day by day.  They're like prisoners in jail, taking it one day at a time, never daring to look too far ahead in case they get discouraged and give up hope.

In contrast, far too many of our people on welfare, or unemployment benefits, or SNAP, or whatever, expect such assistance as a right.  They actually expect others to find them a job, or get them more benefits, or teach them new skills.  They don't expect to have to get up off their asses and do these things for themselves - and to me, that's the problem, right there.  Our welfare system encourages a culture of dependency on others.

In most of the world, statements such as those I highlight below are frankly ridiculous.

  • "We are not taking measures to address the reasons why people are on public assistance" - Wrong approach.  Why are they relying primarily on public assistance instead of upon their own efforts and those of their extended family?  If they have no extended family upon whom to rely, whose fault is that?  Have we allowed government to destroy the extended family through its misguided policies?  If so, that's a fault to be remedied rather than a fact to be accepted.
  • "We all too easily take the road of judgment rather than reaching out to help those less fortunate" - Why should we reach out to them?  Frankly, charity begins at home.  Miss D. and I regularly give money - sometimes substantial sums - to people we come across in our daily lives who are in need, but are already doing their best to make ends meet under very difficult circumstances.  We simply help the process along, "helping those who are trying to help themselves".  We don't try to help those who sit back and expect - or, worse, demand - our help as of right.
  • "the private sector and local communities and charities should be there to offer this type of aid because it’s not the government’s job" - Why should they offer this type of aid at all?  Why not offer aid that's designed and expressly intended to help someone get back on their own feet as quickly as possible?  The author argues against the use of drug testing for welfare recipients.  I'd say it's a primary 'acid test' (you should pardon the expression) for those who are serious about changing their lives, and have no objection to it at all.  If they're going to use the aid we provide as taxpayers and charitable donors to get high or buzzed or drunk, they don't deserve that aid.  Period.
  • "There are people who have never been told they’re valuable and that they have purpose in life."  Who says we're intrinsically valuable anyway?  I know many people whose main value appears to consist in being a living warning to others not to adopt their way of life!  As for a purpose in life, while we may have one from a religious perspective, I'd argue very strongly that one's purpose in life is what one seeks out and builds for oneself.  We apply ourselves to become someone of value to others.  In doing so, we develop value to and for ourselves.  I don't believe it's possible to develop genuine self-esteem and self-appreciation in isolation from others, or if we're doing nothing to help others.  That's a contradiction in terms.
  • "It’s in these situations we should be showing compassion, assistance, and imparting the values of self respect, hard work, and the belief they too, can achieve whatever they believe to be possible."  I'm sorry, but this is too ridiculous for words.  We cannot impart values to others.  We can only demonstrate those values in our own conduct, our own attitudes, our own actions, our own way of life, as an example to others.  Unless and until they internalize those values for themselves and change their attitudes and behaviors to embody them, they'll be stuck in their same old rut.  As for achieving whatever they believe to be possible - bull!  There are many people who can't achieve what they 'believe' to be possible, because the environment in which they live - and from which they have no way of escape - won't permit them to do so.  They have a choice.  They can wallow in their "I wanna be this, but I can't!" self-pity, or they can look for something they can achieve and work towards that goal.  It may not be something pleasant.  I expect no-one wants to be the best sewage plant worker in history . . . but if that's the only job available to you, you'd damn well better work towards that, otherwise someone else who is prepared to do so may take your job away from you!

I have profound empathy for those working multiple jobs and struggling to survive in the face of real poverty.  However, poverty is relative.  I've lived among those whose daily income amounted to less (a lot less) than one US dollar per day.  I've seen them starve.  I've seen some die of starvation.  I've seen their despair give way to apathy, and to a resigned acceptance of their fate.  I've watched the light die in their eyes, and it's saddened and sickened me that I could do nothing to change their fate.  However, I've seen many others in precisely the same situation sacrifice themselves daily for the good of others - their children, their extended family, their tribe.  They do all they can, all day, every day, because that's what a human being does.  They don't moan and whine about how callous others are not to support them in the style to which they'd like to become accustomed.

Contrast that with the looters who all too often strip stores of their contents on any feebly manufactured excuse - most recently in Ferguson, Missouri.

Look at those who use their welfare benefits to buy steak and shrimp, or who drive pimped-out SUV's to use their EBT cards to buy groceries (something I've seen more than a few times in inner-city neighborhoods).  I promise you, if they were set down in some of the hardscrabble areas of the world, their attitudes would get them killed in no time flat, because they'd be a burden and a hardship to the community rather than contributors to it.

Do you want meaningful entitlement?  Here's one way to do it.  I'd dismantle the entire welfare and entitlement system, including unemployment benefits and Social Security, but excluding medical insurance (although that needs reform too).  In its place I'd offer every citizen of the USA (not non-citizens, please note!) a flat sum of money every year.  It would be enough to live at a basic level, without much in the way of luxuries - say, $1,500 to $2,000 per month, or $18,000 to $24,000 per year.  Let's make it tax-free, too.  The total cost would be a lot less than what we, as a nation, currently spend every year on welfare and entitlement programs.  Even better, because everyone would get this, we wouldn't need the plethora of government departments, bureaucrats and administrators that currently manage the existing dysfunctional system.  We could shrink government substantially and save even more money!

By doing that, we'd all start with a level playing field, rich and poor alike.  Those who are prepared to work hard will earn more than that, with which they can live at a higher standard.  Those who aren't prepared to work will at least be able to support themselves at a basic level.  The 'entitlement culture' will be overturned, because success will once again depend on your own efforts.  What's not to like?



Dirk said...

When I was young, I worked at a convenience store. I rode my 20-year-old motorcycle back and forth to work, though I often had to walk, as it would break down and require parts I couldn't always afford. My route to work took me past the local food stamps office. It was very irritating - and still is - to see nice new cars in that parking lot, and see who was getting in and out of them...and it sure wasn't the people who worked there!

I had to go into that office at one point and apply for food stamps, when I was between jobs. I used them for basics - bread, potatoes, vegetables, cheap cuts of meat. Of course, you could only buy actual food then, and very little in the way of pre-prepared foods could be bought with food stamps, either. I was only on the program for a couple of months, using it as it was intended - as a stop-gap measure, not a way of life.

I agree - the author of that article pretty much has it all wrong.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a good setup....but your motivation is different from that of the swine that designed and run the present one. This mess is not an accident, it is a resoundingly successful implementation of a cunning plan. It would be wise to devote less effort into devising unworkable solutions to a synthetic problem, and put more into keeping ones self and beloved ones out of the danger zone when the next phase begins. It can't be stopped or steered, and so it is high time for the prudent to flee. It's the best solution. Where to? Any place less connected to this shemozzle, the better!

Topher_Henry said...

Peter: There's just one problem with your proposal - It takes too much power AWAY from the government and bureaucrats, so it'll never pass. They (politicians) will always have a reason as to why it's a terrible idea so they can maintain their position of power. It's the same reason they won't approve a flat tax/fair tax system. It would take too much power away from government. We are living under a tyrannical government that wants to control as many facets of our lives as possible through legislation and taxation. And they will fight tooth and nail to keep that power. Unfortunately, they have most of the mainstream media helping them keep this illusion up that we cannot survive without (at the very LEAST) our current level of government, and in most cases are arguing for MORE government control. It's absolutely ridiculous.

Divemedic said...

Your math is grossly faulty. With about 300 million people, paying each of them $18,000 a year would cost $5.4 trillion a year. This alone is more than all US government spending for last year.

Rolf said...

Fostering dependence as a way to farm votes is *intentional.* You'll not convince any pol whose election requires such vote-farming that their plan is suicidal for the nation, because their own job depends on them not believing it. So, the will go to great lengths and display wondrous mental contortions to not understand you.

Cranky Old Dude said...

Don't know if that'd work but it is clear we need to do something. We have spent $22 Trillion (in 2012 dollars) since the War on Poverty started 50 years ago and all it has done is to create a permanent underclass and raise the number of people in "poverty" from 28 million to 45 million!

Rolf said...

Oh, BTW - your idea of a "basic income," at that level, has some serious flaws. But at a lower level, as "prebate" for sales taxes paid on the first ~$20k of purchases, you are describing a major part of the "FairTax" plan, which solves a bunch of problems with the welfare state AND the IRS.

Peter said...

@Divemedic: Not so faulty. Kids don't get the money. Non-citizens don't get the money. Those two categories alone knock down the total by almost a third. Then there's the shut-down government departments and bureaucracies, the money saved through dozens of other programs being cut, and so on. Sure, the actual amount of 'stipend' may have to be adjusted, but I think it's do-able. Sadly, as Topher_Henry pointed out, we'll probably never get the chance to try . . .

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,
To expand on the 'entitlement' mentality, it was deliberately planned and caused by the Cloward-Piven Strategy to convince the poor that they were "entitled" to welfare, and didn't have to earn their living. As the article notes, this was a "Trojan Horse" movement, using the poor to overwhelm the welfare system, causing its' collapse. Once the system collapsed, socialists could lobby the federal government for a "living wage", or other socialist policies, to calm down the "angry poor".

The point is that signing up people for welfare is an intended feature of the system by deliberate planning, and they won't stop it.

-- Steve

Quirel said...

I have reservations about your reform idea, but I'm not sure how to fix it.

Where I live, a man could live on $20,000 per year, though it would be a stretch.

In Seattle, 150 miles from my hometown, I believe that it would be nearly impossible. Certainly for a family with kids.

Anonymous said...

What is truely scary is how the entitlement mentality destroys reason and develops hatred.
I had a college "student" call our company and ask for some scraps of material. OK, Sure, send us an email, and state what you want and we will see if we can help you out. A month or so later, I got an email stating company x had this for x $ , and if we could beat that price he would order from us. Now this was not a scrap, but a full sheet. I kindly explained to him that for one sheet of product, it was not feasible to offer bulk discounts as we had a certain amount of cost and processing involved. I tried to explain inventory cost, opportunity cost, and why our pricing (widely acknowleged to be sound) was what it was-. He was extremely offended- don't "patronize him" what had started out as accolade of how he wanted to do work like us etc; ended up with rants about old white men and greed and all sorts of other entitlement crap-all because we would not GIVE him the stuff he wanted. The irony is, if he had just spec'ed out the sizing he needed I would have given him the product, as we probably had the scrap around.
It was a real eye opener as I very rarely have to deal with that sort of thing. This guys mental mindset was one click away from a full on "what is yours is mine" .

Anonymous said...

Where do I sign up? We are making it on $1182.91 a month and 43.6% of that figure is rent.


A.B. Prosper said...

A basic income guarantee aka social credit is far far more expensive than all social programs put together.

Assuming a total outlay of 2k per month (basic cost controlled insurance + stipend) per adult (some 200 million US citizens) the total cost would be around 4.8 trillion

The total revenue of the US is about 3 trillion with another .8 borrowed.

I figure assuming the political blowback from social security cuts could be managed we'd need another trillion or so.

Call it 6 trillion or 40% of the GDP for the Feds alone!

Assuming Hauser's Law is in play, that law being a function of the Laffer Curve , it seems to show the maximum amount collectible in Federal taxes is 20% GDP.

Ignoring the economic consequences this would mean the US would have to borrow year after year(or mint) an additional 20% of the entire GDP.

Given that we are not going to be the only superpower much longer, we won't be able to do that without facing heavy inflation.

This of course is a potential security nightmare as the Middle Class continues to shrink and the poor increases.

The baseline assumptions that we have low cost social capital out there is flawed and as such, every city could be a Ferguson or just go into rebellion

Two caveats, Non Assimilated Hispanic cities won't burn as fast but will become extraction and spoils areas and when Whites flee or stop producing, the areas will either become much like Mexico or may face actual La Raza style racial movements with ethnic cleansing (mostly Hispanic on Black to start)

Also the 20% inflation rate mentioned earlier could be managed if we stopped most foreign trade.

Peter said...

OK, then. If $1.5K per month won't work, let's pick a lower figure that we can make work. Of course, part of that will be shedding the excess bureaucracy that administers the present mess . . . I'm pretty sure that those costs must run into the hundreds of millions a year on their own.

(This would also sort out the problem of the 'Social Security trust fund' that isn't - it was plundered by our politicians long ago. Getting rid of SS by folding it into a general program will simply acknowledge that reality.)

A.B. Prosper said...

The admin cost is your lowest point of savings. Its about 5% from what I can figure out re: Social Security, maybe twice that.

Its no going to touch the problem

what lacking are simply jobs. The killers here are globalism and automation

You can deal with globalism to some degree by ending economic liberalism, immigration becomes negative for a while and controlling trade.

It still won't resolve the issue, though the core of our current prosperity was jobs that anyone who could read and had a good work ethic could get into the middle class with.

Even if we repaired broken family units we have little well paid work for average men much less men and women. Even with work sharing (say a 20 hour work week)its not going to pencil out

Those jobs are pretty much gone forever and it will get worse.

Much work will either be replaced by a machine (and these machines can even do food service)a computer program (for example the job of a travel planner used to be well paid job) or can be outsourced.

This suggests to me a future rather like that of Europe where 50% of your most fertile age group is unemployed or underemployed and any with decent impulse control will not be having children.

Basically Capitalism will end up eating its seed corn.

How we get through that without mass wealth redistribution is way past my pay grade though I can say the stop gaps we are using re: mass immigration from the 3rd world is pure poison and won't work

If I had to guess, we'll get a new Dark Age with a pretty huge population die back. The survivors will be highly religious and probably xenophobic as heck. I.E. a global version of Europe's Migration Era with some differences.