A generous Chicago alderman has proposed giving people a guaranteed income of $500 per month. A would-be Democratic presidential candidate wants to up the monthly stipend to $1,000. “The growth of the welfare state,” says CNN, “is turning us into a land where many expect, and see no stigma attached to, drawing regular financial support from the federal government.” Even some conservatives have succumbed to the concept of guaranteed income, reports Investor’s Business Daily. They dream of “eliminating the dozens of welfare programs at the federal, state and city levels and replacing them with one big check.” Is it a good idea?
Democrats Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez think it’s a great idea, as do entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. How would they pay for it? By redistributing income, naturally. First, tax the rich. Then burden corporations with a value-added tax as they do in Europe. Proponents conveniently overlook the fact that Europe is reeling under the burden of the Nanny State. “The simplest way in which the advanced welfare state will lose attractiveness,” says Charles Murray, author of Coming Apart, “is the looming bankruptcy of the European welfare states.”
Unfortunately, many Americans have bought into the belief that poverty can be eliminated by throwing money at it. What else could account for the popularity of Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez? There is no doubt about it—people enjoy receiving free stuff. To believe this way is to fall for the leftist hoax that the answer to all our problems is bigger government enforcing a comprehensive redistribution of resources.
Forget about the fiscal irresponsibility of the guaranteed income plan. The purely economic drawbacks of the welfare system are dwarfed by the resulting cultural damage. Welfare entitlement is at odds with the American values known as hard work and accepting responsibility. The Nanny State makes people lazy. Europe has witnessed the replacement of the traditional continental work ethic with a sense of entitlement, says Brussels Journal, “while the high taxation and the passivity bred by the system [have] eroded initiative and the will to take risks.”
Under our culture of dependency, welfare recipients lose the work habits and job skills that would otherwise make them independent. Poverty is transferred from generation to generation with no hope in sight. “A significant and growing portion of the American population,” says Charles Murray, “is losing the virtues required to be functioning members of a free society.”
The primary fallacy of welfare payments and income redistribution is that they do nothing to end the pattern of poverty. Robbing Peter to pay Paul does no good without rehabilitating Paul. I like the old saw that if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day but if you teach him how to fish you feed him for a lifetime. Our current system of welfare entitlements is the equivalent of giving a man a fish. It benefits no one but the charter members of the Victimization Industry, people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
When people receive free basics—food, shelter, and the like—from the government, it precludes the possibility of personal responsibility. In terms of survival, Murray argues that accepting responsibility is the most important value. Without it, he says, life has no meaning. The challenges of life are diminished. People lose the incentive to live their lives and they turn into robots. “All of the good things in life,” says Murray, “require freedom to act coupled with responsibility for the consequences of those actions… The only way to earn anything is to achieve it in the face of the possibility of failing.” With any accomplishment in life, he concludes, “responsibility for the desired outcome is inseparable from the satisfaction.”
How do we provide support for low-income Americans while helping them to be responsible for their actions? Offering a guaranteed income can only make the situation worse. We will never put an end to poverty without replacing the “give them free stuff” welfare mentality with programs that prepare the recipients for self-sufficiency. President Trump understands this. He has signed an executive order that will strengthen work requirements for public assistance. “Part of President Trump’s effort to create a booming American economy,” says the White House, “includes moving Americans from welfare to work” and helping them “reclaim their independence.” It is about time.
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