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The Immorality of Welfare

Welfare enslaves both the giver and the taker.

By Fennoman  |  August 29, 2011

In most religious traditions, self-determination is a foundational doctrine.  Without it, nothing else matters.

If we believe that our lives are predetermined, it’s hard to see that anything matters.  No matter which side of the political fence you’re on, you know that you do have choices over your own life.  Even atheists, who don’t believe in anything but the here and now, believe that our choices are ours and not predetermined by some external force.

Our ability to choose our thoughts, words, and actions is simply put - liberty.  The freedom to be who we want to be.

It really wasn't until the founding of this country that true liberty was available.  This country, particularly with the constitutional protections of liberty from government interference was unique... the first time in history that man was able to think, speak AND act as he wished, as long as those actions didn't infringe upon another's right to do the same.

This country protected an individual's liberty like no other.  In fact, our nation's history created a people who valued their liberty almost above everything else.

The Mormon prophet Joseph Smith stated:

We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.

Smith shared the Founders' view of what the "good of society" meant (where the Founders used "general welfare" as their language).  In their time this language didn't mean what it has come to mean today.  It did not mean providing for individual needs.  James Madison stated:

With respect to the two words 'general welfare,' I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.

All of that leads us to the purpose of our federal government:  to protect the liberty of its citizens.  Encroachments on liberty can come from without, but the most dangerous will come from within.

The 9th & 10th Amendments attempt to curb these encroachments, albeit rather unsuccessfully when the Supreme Court is packed with men & women who think otherwise.

Modern Welfare Is Unconstitutional

Today we live in a country where, even with the very best of intentions - though I have my doubts that all the intentions were honorable - we've changed the meaning of the word "welfare" in the Constitution.  This necessarily changed what we think are our rights.

Constitutionally, we are supposed to be free to act as we wish with without government interference except when we infringe upon the rights of others.  Unfortunately, many citizens see their rights as being primarily the freedom from being responsible for themselves and each other.

As government "welfare" has increased, so has its intrusion into our lives.  We are not nearly as free as we used to be.

Part of my freedom is lost when the fruit of my labor is taken without my consent to be given to another.  Part of my freedom is lost when government creates a law to protect me from myself, regardless of whether I might need such protection.  Does this not destroy my liberty?

Government has changed its purpose from protecting our liberties to providing necessities.  Two of Roosevelt's Four Freedoms, while noble, are not really liberties as they're classically understood.

  1. Freedom of speech and expression
  2. Freedom of worship
  3. Freedom from want
  4. Freedom from fear

In order for government to provide the latter two, the first two eventually must be violated, along with many of our other natural and constitutionally protected rights of self determination.  Government must take from you if it is to give to me; it cannot do anything else because it produces nothing of itself.

When government takes from you in any form, does this not make you a slave?  If you complain about this theft and attempt to fight against it, government must necessarily silence you so that it can keep taking from you.   

Yes, all should be free from want and free from fear, but these freedoms cannot be imposed or granted by government.  They can only be brought about by individuals working on their own behalf or in the interest of their friends and dear ones.  In the end, government creates a fear - the very thing it claims to protect against - in its efforts to provide a freedom from want.

What about those who cannot take care of themselves?  You and I are indeed responsible for them.  Not collectively, where that responsibility can be easily shrugged off, but individually, or through voluntary groups, like churches, that we freely join (and leave).

Government provision of welfare in any form, including the corporate welfare of business subsidies, creates a perverse set of incentives - not just for those receiving the subsidies, but for those administering them.  Where the goal of a private organization is to help as many people to become self-reliant as possible, government welfare bureaucrats try to increase their dependents so they can continue to justify their employment.

Once the government starts handing out money, the market begins to be distorted.  Helping farmers, upon whose success we're dependent, is noble, but government is not the organization to do it.

Helping the elderly who haven't save enough and don't have children can't be done with a Ponzi scheme like Social Security, which will eventually and unavoidably fail due to demographics.  But its structural integrity isn't the point - the point is that it is simply wrong to force us to participate against our will even if it is supposed to be for our own good.  Helping the elderly can can, and should, only be done by you and me.

Our healthcare system is distorted by government intervention in the way of tax codes, Medicare, Medicaid and regulations.  We're all forced into a system that costs too much with too few choices, then blame the insurance companies for the rules foisted upon them by government.

One group or company is favored over another and the grand game begins.  In time everyone's freedom is limited and, as Orwell wrote "all animals are equal, it's just that some are more equal than others".  Those with access to those who make the rules are the ones who collect the wealth.

Cures Worse than the Disease

One might say "Isn't the government a group of citizens acting in the best interest of the whole?  Why can't the government provide for those in need if the citizens decide it's the best thing?"  Isn't there a "social contract" that makes us responsible for each other.

No.  There are at least a few reasons why governments should not be in the welfare business.

First, when we use a church or other organization to help provide for those in need our contribution is entirely voluntary.  We choose how much and who to give.  We use our liberty to make a choice (arguably, a morally correct choice) to help those who need help the most.  The idea of a "social contract" is illogical.  In order for us to participate in a contract, it must be voluntary.  Unless we can choose the circumstances of our birth, we cannot be compelled to participate in some arbitrary idea of a "social contract".  Requiring us to behave a certain way is a form of slavery.

When government is used, our "contributions" are involuntary: we cannot choose how much or who to give to, and our liberty is compromised.

We have the right to exercise our conscience with regard to military service, yet we're not allowed the same liberty with welfare services?

Secondly, we're human beings.  Government employees are no different than any other human.  As a result, the natural inclination to get as much as we can for as little effort as possible.

History has shown that when there is no incentive to be frugal, wise and judicious we aren't - especially with other people's money.  We can spend other people's money on others without any thought for it's source.

This pernicious effect is even worse on those who receive the aid, because they quickly become dependent upon it.  The dole destroys the human spirit.  Just look at what happens to people who are on unemployment for two years.

Governments have no incentive to remove people from the dole, or dependency.  Non-governmental agencies do their best to keep people off of it.

We also have history to teach us what happens to socialist societies of every kind: they all tend towards collapse as more people take out than put in.  Full communism makes it happen faster than socialism, but they all go in that direction.  Even the seeming utopias of Europe are on the verge of societal collapse.

Socialism rots our incentive to personally serve each other and creates selfishness.  This selfishness is seen in birthrates plummeting and virtual anarchy when "benefits" are taken away, no matter how lavish and, truthfully, unearned.

Third, welfare in any of its forms distorts the market.  Over time this distortion leads to severe economic distress.  The ultimate examples are communist states current and past: their economies failed and collapsed.

Fourth, forced welfare, which is what all government programs are, causes contention.  It causes people who receive to feel the right to it, and when it's denied they're terribly upset.  For those from whom it is taken, resentment builds that they are being obligated to help others, often others who truly aren't deserving of it.

Those who get the help resent those who give it, and those who give it begin to resent those who take it.  Doesn't this seem like the circumstance we're in today?

Yes, it's terribly immoral to not provide for the poor.  But it's even more immoral to require you to provide for the poor; taking without consent is simple theft regardless of motive.

It's immoral to not pay a fair wage, but it's more immoral to have minimum wage laws - they are on their face theft, and also distort the employment market by pricing out the most vulnerable and least qualified.

It's immoral to not provide essential healthcare, but it's more immoral to create a which system denies providers and patients the right to freely exchange for the services.  Our current tax policy and third party payment systems make slaves and dependents of us all, doctor and patient, rich and poor.

Tax policies are the same... we favor one group over another.  People who buy homes are favored over those who do not.  People who invest one way are favored over those who invest a different way.  These distort the market and entire system of free exchange between people.

No group should be "more exempt" than another group, regardless of income.

How does this happen?  We allow people to be bought and sold, not literally, but by not holding responsible those who are elected.  There should be no social engineering efforts through tax policy, which are intentionally manipulated to favor one group, industry, or business over another.  This is wrong and unconstitutional.

A Fearful Reckoning

The Civil War was fought over liberty - not just slavery (the ultimate denial of liberty), but of one group of states (the North) to have the right to NOT accept slavery.  The South wanted legislation that required the North to return escaped slaves.  The North was being required to accept that which they held as immoral.

Their freedom of conscience was violated - they would be slaves to the ideas of others.  When one group imposes its will on another, trouble will follow, no matter how moral that imposition may appear on its face.

This country was founded upon protecting the liberty of its citizens.  Social welfare states, of any form, slowly, incrementally, almost undetectably remove our liberty.  Because of the violation of our individual agency, any legislation that removes that liberty  must be guarded against.

To reiterate Joseph Smith:

We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.

For the last 100 years our "right and control of property" has been slowly eroded.  Our rights to the "free exercise of conscience" are being slowly deteriorated with them.

Is it no wonder that governments no longer exists in peace?  These natural rights have been violated with new "rights" supplanting them.  These violations were most often done with noble purpose - or at least that's how they were sold.

No matter how noble, how well intentioned we may be, using the force of government to provide for those who need at whatever level is a violation of liberty.  People will not tolerate their liberties being taken from them very long.  History teaches this.  Today, we can either return to liberty and true unabridged freedom, along with its very real consequences of success and failure.

Or, we face the chaos and war that is the natural conclusion of socialism in any form.