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?