In the Welfare Zoo

Obama's Euro-socialism makes zoo animals of us all.

Your humble correspondent took a much-needed vacation last week; among its highlights was a trip to a safari nature park.

This was no ordinary zoo; there were no cages, moats, or iron bars.  Yes, the compound was surrounded by a high fence that ran for many miles, but within that rather large area the animals ran freely in their own extensive paddocks.  Instead of stark cement "cliffs," there was savanna, healthy trees, natural rocks, and even the occasional pond and stream complete with reeds and smaller edible wildlife.

Within this idyll lived a group of clearly well-fed, healthy, and contented beasts of all sorts.  Free to wander as they would, some would come up to your car in curiosity; others seeking privacy went off into the trees or beyond a rise.

All seemed to be in the peak of good health; all showed glistening fur and healthy skin due to health care provided at no cost to them.  Their young romped and frolicked under the watchful eyes of parents and relations.  It was the wild, yet without hunger, predators, disease...

Or purpose, challenge, goals, or anything resembling Darwin's struggle for life.  Watching these magnificent creatures who had nothing to do, I couldn't help but think of the Euro-style social-democratic welfare statism our elites intend for us.

Needing Nothing, Having Nothing

The rich West has long since conquered hunger and poverty by any reasonable definition.  Between the generosity of private charities and government programs of all types, the only reason for any American or Western European to be hungry is their own fecklessness and lack of sufficient initiative to go to the soup kitchen or welfare office for aid.

In the main, modern welfare programs provide shelter, clothing, and basic medical care as well.  Most of the modern "homeless" are actually mentally disturbed people whose inner demons drive them out of the shelters available to them, or worse, drive them to destroy those homes; what they need is not merely a roof, but medications they have been granted a constitutional right of refusal to take.

Life as a welfare mother is hardly Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, but it's quite sufficient to keep body together.  The current drumbeat of complaint from the Left has to do with fat welfare recipients, not starving ones.

What, though, about the human spirit?  Like the animals in the nature park, welfare people have their physical needs provided for.  Unlike most animals, though, they are sufficiently intelligent to know that they have earned none of it, deserve none of it, and truly own none of it by any moral right.

As people, they are leeches; as citizens, they are more akin to subjects who live at the whim of the bureaucracy; as persons, they're more like irresponsible children than adults; in the grand sweep of history, they are the most abject of useless failures.  Life has no meaning beyond unthinking breeding and the pursuit of bureaucratic largess.

Empty Lives, Empty Heads

It was in the eyes of the bears, I think, that I saw some glimmer of understanding.  There were a great many bears, playing around in a desultory way.  When we came by, they gathered round to "perform" for treats; when we left, they went back to lounging.  The only real energy shown was by two smallish cubs.  Their every need was provided for... and yet somehow, they knew they'd lost something essential to being a bear.

So it is with humankind.  Yes, it is possible to wrap people in a thick padding of government programs and welfare checks, protecting them from the worst fates of starvation and exposure.  By doing so, we also remove all impetus to make something of themselves.

There will always be a few people who lack any internal drive for success or advancement.  The wider the "safety" net, though, and the more we commit to making sure that bad luck never befalls anyone and struggles for survival are a thing of the past, the less human greatness we will see.  For what is the thrill of victory without the agony of defeat?

The bears in the park will never know the threat of a hunter, of a larger angry bear, or of an empty belly from a too-long winter.  They will also never know the thrill of escape, the joy of winning a fight, or the relief of finding that first fruit of spring.  For animals, that may be OK; they have no souls, and they might be able to survive a life free of challenges indefinitely.

As a wise philosopher said, "welfare robs the poor of the spur of their poverty."  Do we really want to create a world in which people have no need for souls, goals, future planning, or anything that makes them human?

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments
To say nothing of the fact that this sort of utopia for humans CANNOT exist because someone has to pay for it all. Humans will pay for such a place for animals, who need not try to repay their living expenses. Who will pay for the humans? Other humans, of course. And when that money runs out and the incentive to work is completely gone, the utopia will become a wasteland.
June 30, 2010 9:11 AM
What can be done to spur these welfare recipients on to productivity and independence? Welfare mothers, in particular, know on some level that they hold all the cards in any tussle with the government. Bluster though they may, NO elected official wants to be connected to anything that has to do with taking basic food and shelter away from innocent children. Intentionally or not, these women are using their own children as hostages to get money from the American people. Reagan tried to tangle with the American welfare mom and learned the hard way that it was a losing battle.

One possibility might be to remove all children from parents who cannot support them. Of course the government would have to raise these children, which would result in the creation of an immense bureaucracy and other potentially more serious issues that might spring from the government raising a generation of children. Not to mention the fact that no elected official wants to be part of any plan that involves removing children from their mothers. No doubt our fearless leaders have already considered this plan and discarded it as a greater evil than the one it would be designed to thwart.

Another might be to begin demanding that our family court system presumes custody and physical placement of children goes to both parents jointly, and switches to the self-supporting parent in the event that one parent files for welfare. Ah, but again, no elected official wants to be connected to anything that has to do with removing children from their mothers (removing them from their FATHERS is another matter).

After Reagan figured out that going after welfare mothers was political suicide, he created one of the most insidious plans known to fathers who are aware of it. He began the Federal practice of paying states back a percentage of every child support dollar they collected in welfare cases. This did work to bring more money back to the Federal government, but it also created a chain reaction of policy that has led to the sorry state that American fathers find themselves in now and are only just beginning to make any progress on changing. Follow the money trail!
June 30, 2010 9:35 AM
It's been suggested that Norplant should be a requirement of receiving a welfare check.
June 30, 2010 9:42 AM
Politicians need to stop worrying about the bad press they get from Al Sharpton's army of welfare mommas. Most of them don't vote anyway.

We've gotten ourselves into too much trouble already by trying to avoid bad press and do things to keep 'our side' elected.

Face the problem head on. Welfare, bad. Self reliance, good. Get rid of welfare and let the media say want they want. The Tea Party movement has demonstrated multiple times that the media is irrelevant if you focus on the message at hand.
June 30, 2010 9:48 AM
@Patience: Besides the obvious hurdles that would have to be overcome in order to put such a plan in practice, by the time most women are receiving, it would already be too late for Norplant.

@lfon: You need to understand the true scope of the problem:

Welfare money comes from the Federal government. In order to step up loss recovery, under Reagan (after his failed attempt to target welfare moms) the Fed began paying the states money for every dollar they returned to them via child support.

Can you guess what happened to average child support awards after this policy was put into place? Can you guess how states began shaping policy to shape who got custody of children (hint: the wealthier parent tends to lose it)?

Now we have an entire SYSTEM with a vested interest in the status quo. Welfare mothers, of course, but also pretty much anyone connected to the "family" courts and the collection of child support. And THE STATES THEMSELVES, who recognize what a moneymaker this entire scheme is for them. Sure, it's shortsighted, as they're ultimately eating up Federal dollars that will be taken away from their constituencies later on as the Fed just raises its own taxes; but how many politicians refuse to go along with plans because they are too "short sighted"?

Caught in the middle of this evil system are responsible fathers and their children. Those who aren't married to the mothers of their children (I understand there will be the argument that there is no such thing as a responsible father who isn't married to the mother of his children -- bear with me) are subject to a system that thrives on their marginalization from their children in all arenas save the financial, and those who ARE married to the mothers of their children have at least some idea of what awaits them if their wives decide to skip out on them because they prefer the attentions of the poolboy. And the children? The children lose their fathers, something which liberals are trying to tell us doesn't matter (unless they're trying to berate fathers at that moment).

There IS a war on in America, a war for the family. And something is going to have to give.

The true conservative is vocal in their support for fathers' rights and the rebuttable presumption of joint physical placement in custody cases -- a much needed policy that unfortunately for everyone involved flies in the face of the all-too-lucrative policies that are currently in place.
June 30, 2010 10:34 AM
Getting rid of welfare all together gets rid of all the problems layered on top of it.

Some states are inclined towards favoring mothers in custody situations. If that is caused by perverse incentives from the feds, then getting rid of welfare entirely will get rid of those incentives.

Reagan only lost the fight because he quit trying and because he had more pressing issues to deal with.

The 1994 Republican House carried the fight a bit further - and coerced Clinton into signing - but they still didn't go far enough.

Welfare mommas have no lobbying power except for what the MSM provides free of charge. The MSM is routinely defeated.
June 30, 2010 10:41 AM
Werebat, Offensicht has written on exactly the problem you mention.
June 30, 2010 10:46 AM
@Petrarch: I have read the article and I mostly agree with Offensicht. There is also the concept of "game theory" where no matter what system one sets up, it encourages people to act in certain ways if they want to "win"; sometimes these encouragements are not exactly what the designers had in mind.

Note that I am aware that many of the problems with the current "family" court system ultimately spring from fathers who were acting irresponsibly and not supporting their children at all. Reagan's policy innovation sprang in part from the fact that at the time states were doing very little to enforce child support regulations; they had little need to. The mothers and their children weren't starving, as welfare was already in place, and there was little in it for the states to bother tracking down fathers who owed money (it would have cost them without providing a benefit that was worth the cost; sure, many responsibly single mothers who were not on welfare were angry they weren't being helped, but at the time they weren't numerous or organized enough to be of any consequence).

Unfortunately, game theory in action has taken Reagan's policy and ushered in a favoring of winner-takes-all custody solutions where the state tries to maximize the amount of money that the "loser" has to pay the "winner" (for the obvious reason that the more money the state collects, the more it can return to the Fed and the more it will receive in Federal kickbacks). Children and men (in the context of "family" court disputes) are so politically marginalized that no one really cares what they think of the arrangement or whether or not it is fair or good for them. The assumption is that any man who isn't married to the mother of his children somehow "deserves" to be spat on, so who cares if the system treats him fairly?
June 30, 2010 11:36 AM
Werebat, what you're referring to as "game theory" is indeed that, but more fundamentally it's the Law of Unintended Consequences at work. And because government is a natural monopoly, that's a fundamental reason we believe the government should be limited to the maximum possible degree: it's impossible to escape its reach when it makes a mistake, as it almost invariably does. The Founders tried to solve this problem via the mechanism of Federalism, but the Progressives mostly dismantled that a hundred years ago and now we've arrived at the near-monolithic state our Constitution was never designed for.
June 30, 2010 1:20 PM
I realize I'm getting into philosophy here, but I find the topic interesting -- what events precipitated the (probably well-intentioned) Progressive dismantling of the Federalist system designed by the Founders?

I have already admitted that one of the causes of the present wretched system in our "family" courts is that at one time a significant number of fathers were in fact abusing the system (by skipping out on their kids when no real mechanism was in place to prevent them from doing so). Were there similar abuses taking place that triggered the dismantling of the Federalist system? What could be done in the future to prevent them from happening again, were a Federalist system somehow reinstated?
June 30, 2010 2:55 PM
Fennoman addressed a little of this in his excellent series "1913: America's Worst Year."

Many of the Progressive changes were intended to increase the role of "democracy" as a replacement for what they saw as rule by unaccountable elites. For example, the change to direct election of Senators which we have today, replaced the old system whereby state legislatures elected their states Senators.

The Progressives were offended by the fact that the Senate was filled with state-level good-ol'-boys who smoked cigars and slapped each other's backs. They felt that it would be more democratic for Senators to answer to voters.

They were of course correct, direct election is more democratic, but that's not the point. The Senate was designed for the express purpose of NOT representing the people directly - it was supposed to represent the interests of the states themselves, as selected by their legislatures.

A Senate selected that way would never, never have supported the vast increase in Federal power at the expense of state power which we've seen in the last hundred years - and the people still get screwed. Unintended Consequences at work!
June 30, 2010 3:11 PM
Add Your Comment...
4000 characters remaining
Loading question...