Welfare-State Philosophy Grabbing Hold
I have focused attention recently on the Federal Reserve and its QE policies, but circumstance warrants a needed digression. By chance, I ran across two complementary articles that speak to the most debilitating trend seen in American history. The first speaks of the growing welfare state in America, while the second illustrates, via a concrete example, its power to sway the minds of rational individuals towards an ideology of entitlement. James Shott writes of the ideological shift that is gripping Americans. Namely, what once was a nation of self-sufficient, independent-minded individuals is becoming a den of government dependence. We realize, of course, the increase in size of our federal government over the last half century, but reiterating some information laid out by Shott develops perspective:
1) The federal tax code is 17,000 pages and involves more than 700 different forms.
2) The Code of Federal Regulations, the codification of the general and permanent rules created by Congress and the executive departments and agencies of the federal government, comprises a mind-blowing 163,000 pages, weighs more than 1,600 pounds, and stands 54 feet high.
3) Since President Lyndon B. Johnson launched the War on Poverty in 1964, welfare spending increased 13 times by FY 2008, rising from $50 billion to over $700 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars.
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Government Accountability Office
Perhaps we have a neighbor collecting food stamps or a relative on Medicare, but do we really see these programs for what they are? We are told by both the media and our universities that these programs are for those in need, that some are simply incapable of providing for themselves. We are told that it is our moral duty to take care of our own, but at the expense of taking care of ourselves. We are told such programs are for the public good, without an adequate definition of what the “public good” is or means. We are told solutions to problems we have not yet identified, and our failure to question such rhetoric is to turn a blind eye to judgment, accountability, and our own best interest. Ideology aside, basic economic principles highlight the simply unsustainable nature of our current welfare state. Add to this burden Uncle Sam’s deficit spending spree in the name of economic recovery, and the future points more and more towards severe economic instability coupled with higher taxation and declining purchasing power for our dollars.
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So the question is not what America wants. This is a question asked of bureaucrats to produce a sound bite. Questions of “want” that neglect objective consideration of circumstance -i.e. principles based in reality – are symptoms of a far greater problem. They are symptoms of a fundamentally broken political system, a system that regards ideas, solutions, and even problems as a means to an immediate end, namely securing one’s political office. Ayn Rand commented on this phenomenon in 1974. She stated in Philosophy: Who Needs It, “On this view, a man does not seek to be elected to a public office in order to carry out certain policies – he advocates certain policies in order to be elected.” (“Selfishness Without a Self,” 66-67). A more modern classification of this problem is known as the tail wagging the dog. This is not a new phenomenon, but what is important is the degree to which it is threatening our future. So long as politicians speak in ideological sound bites for the evening news and act according to their desire for reelection instead of advocating for objective principles based in reality, America can only expect leadership built upon a platform of graft, avarice, and irrational exuberance. And as such, they can no longer claim the title of leaders. You see it! But until you accept it as reality, you cannot hope for change.
But the problem is two-fold, for we ought not simply to blame our elected representatives and bureaucrats. The same degree of apathy and ignorance is saturating the American public as well. A recent example of our failure to judge and act from objective principles based in reality comes from a Michigan lottery winner. Leroy Fick, after winning a two million dollar prize, continues to collect food stamps. According to a technicality in the law, lottery winnings are not considered income – the primary criterion for recipients. Consequently, Mr. Fick continues to collect and denounces any guilt in doing so. Such a position leads one to the logical conclusion that Mr. Fick feels he is entitled to such aid. Is this the road we are all walking? By what standard does Mr. Fick claim entitlement? By what standard do any of us claim entitlement to the unearned? The basic premise of capitalism is an equal trade of value for value. The welfare state is clearly eating away at the most fundamental ideology underlying capitalism, namely that of free trade in a marketplace that fuels incentive and innovation. Perhaps more importantly, whereas entitlement leads to dependence, it logically leads one away from independence – a term synonymous with America, opportunity, and liberty. But what once was a term imbued with pride and honor is quickly becoming a term of endearment to the lost principles of American strength.
How is it that a nation built upon principles of liberty, individualism, and self-sufficiency has dwarfed itself into one of apathy, ignorance, and self-neglect? This trend renders us incapable of sustaining ourselves. Our future is increasingly mortgaged by Washington policies – whether they be the unlimited printing of money and its subsequent draining of purchasing power, future retirement savings, and declining equity of our homes, or a more subtle and corrosive ideological vacuum that has gripped Washington and our nation’s universities. Consequently, in an attempt to pacify our conscience, we often examine these issues in the context of what they mean for America’s future. But what we forget is that the future of any nation is the amalgamation of millions of individual lives. So I ask my readers to consider not their nation, their state, their community, or even their neighbor in regards to the standard of value to which we hold America’s future. If you must look outside yourself for a degree of prudence and judicious action, do so in the context of your children’s future, with your child as your final standard of what is sustainable, rational, and just. Ask yourself not what a given policy or ideology will do for the public good, but what it will do for the future of your most prized possession, your child.