I submit that a safety net can only be usefully maintained within personal institutions like the family or church, in which the helping actions are joined with charity in the heart, and charity in the heart is joined with keen discernment in the intellect. Impersonal bureaucracies responsible for handing out dole have no way of distinguishing when help is truly needed from when it is superfluous and even destructive.
Thus, Lindsey worries about “excessive and overweening bureaucracy.” Doesn’t he realize that the bureaucracy has to be large and Byzantine and unapproachable without lawyers and a long process rife with arbitrariness precisely in order to deter potential welfare recipients? The easier it is to get on welfare, the more people will happily try to. Even the state understands the danger and deals with it in the only way it can: by erecting irrelevant obstacles to obtaining aid to everyone, whether deserving of aid or not.
Now the word “charity” has its root in the Latin “dearness,” from carus “dear.” It implies holding the beloved dear, as if one’s own child. But a man who is raising a child is not in so doing being a cold utilitarian, considering the child to be just one among many undifferentiated and replaceable humans into whom “utility” is to be imparted. The giving of charity is fundamentally an investment. It is not pouring fish heads down someone’s insatiable maw to satisfy his most base and ignoble urges, so that, having devoured his allotment, the person would watch TV all day and later on plop into fully contented sleep. But the welfare state is not charged with investing into the poor in this way. Once it approves a welfare application, it sends the guy checks, no further questions asked, forever.
The state then does an extremely poor job at discriminating between applicants properly. For one, the funds are limited and must be used prudently to achieve the most good. Some people simply do not “deserve” charity and must be, for their own good and for the good of those who on the contrary ought to receive charity, turned away. Still others are malicious and unscrupulous and only pretend to be helpless, and they need, “to improve the quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of the safety net,” to be ferreted out and refused aid.
On the side of the recipients, personal safety nets offer reproach for being supported by the gifts of others, a dose of shame if you will, thereby instilling a desire in the poor person to become self-sufficient. Many government welfare recipients falsely think that their benefits are richly deserved, and that the taxpayers are suckers for authorizing them.
Then there is the disparate impact of welfare on different demographic groups as wholes. The state deliberately and by explicit design does not discriminate in an area where discrimination is in fact vitally important. It should be obvious, for example, that welfare affects blacks and whites differently. Despite its evil in general, the welfare state has not caused the white society to collapse entirely, though plenty of damage is still being done. But it has, due to well-understood race differences, devastated the black community. Of course, blacks choose of their own free will to become degenerates under welfare state. They enjoy the handouts even as they reduce themselves to monsters. All the same, for their own good and for the good of society, even private charities would be well-advised to take demographics into serious account, which they can do, unlike the state; can you imagine the howls from the left if the government were not color-blind in distributing the loot?
Now there are people who are permanently disabled and must be permanently supported; and even here, they should be urged to take every opportunity to heal themselves or make themselves useful to fellow men. Economic progress in a free society occurs at such a rapid pace that an incurable condition 10 years ago can become treatable today. But there are many people who may truly need welfare only temporarily, even for a very short period of time. Again, others psychopathically will try to take advantage of others’ charity by faking disability or malingering. But careful discernment on the part of each individual giver can minimize such perversions. Again, unlike the state.
Financing the safety net by taxes constitutes naked unvarnished theft, in which some members of society are forced to relinquish their money for causes for which they themselves do not care. Capitalism is a system of consumer sovereignty. Items of consumption include charitable donations. It is the people individually not the state or political majorities that decide, under capitalism, whom to bless with works of mercy. The local government is praxeologically necessary, and taxation for the sake of supporting it may be justified, if no better way gets invented. But not charity. Again, either we have laissez-faire in its entirety, or we lose the ability to argue against out-and-out socialism.
The one-size-fits-all social security system, even assuming that it operates not as pay-as-you-go but as a forced savings scheme with a personal account for every citizen, presupposes falsely that people are unable to save for themselves; that they are imprudent, while the state is there to save the masses from themselves. This, I want to suggest, is the exact opposite of truth: the state is profligate beyond belief, having in the US, for example, amassed an enormous debt. Further, what it does is prevents people from customizing their retirement plans for themselves. Payroll taxes are a massive drain on the income of young people and worsen their quality of life and hamper their ability to save for the future. It is the young people in their 20s who are society’s most vulnerable group, not the old. Yet the government treats them like dirt.
I even suggest that old people are far more grasping and selfish than the young. They’d kill their own children and drink their blood if it helped to prolong their lives for an extra week. And these are the sort of people for whose sake our kids are eagerly sacrificed by society!
The reason why Social Security in the United States is the third rail of politics is also related to money and banking. For business cycles undermine people’s attempts to save for retirement “quickly” and spectacularly; inflation undermines the same “slowly” but surely. As a result, crypto-socialists of all parties obtain recourse to the argument that the community should be charged with providing for everyone’s old age. Make banking honest and money private, and Social Security will fast come to be seen for what it is: intergenerational theft. There is no principle of justice that takes the fact that young Smith was robbed by old Jones to permit Smith, when he himself gets old, to rob young Robinson.
Is it at all conceivable to people these days, I must wonder, that a society is possible in which there are no looted who become looters simply by turning 65, that one can be neither a victim nor a perpetrator but a free person?
I conclude that Lindsey’s belief that “government social programs greatly improve outcomes in key dimensions of human welfare” is deeply implausible. I urge him to take into consideration the arguments in my last two posts.