“Saftey Nets”

I believe we should all do what we can to relieve poverty, but I also think private action simply isn’t enough. Since the private sector can’t do it all, it takes someone bigger, the government, to deal with the major problems with poverty in our world.

This is a common response to the problem of poverty, specifically provided as a reason why we should support big government programs like welfare and food stamps. This argument begins, of course, with the idea that the government is “bigger” than the private sector, or somehow “more powerful than the private sector,” which is a backwards idea. But there’s another problem here, an unspoken one.

This morning, a new report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) shows the staggering reality of the growing welfare state—echoing Heritage’s own research that reveals welfare spending is approaching the $1 trillion mark. -Heritage

There are around 100 million people on means tested aid to “the poor,” in the United States. If we’re spending $1,000,000,000,000 a year on welfare, all we need to do to figure out how much we’re spending per recipient is remove 8 0’s from the amount we spend to arrive at $10,000 for every man, woman, and child on means tested government aid. A family of three, then, should be receiving about $30,000 per year in direct aid from the government, given current spending levels.

And yet, we still have people in poverty. In fact, the percentage of people in poverty in the United States hasn’t materially changed since the beginning of the “war on poverty,” which began in 1964. We’ve had 47 years of big welfare state policies, and it hasn’t worked.


The answer to this question lies in our worldview, rather than economics.

The problem isn’t that the government can’t muster enough money to resolve the problem, but rather than you can’t force or pay people to care about other people. And direct payments from the government, of course, don’t really pay people to care about others. Instead, they pay people to make certain everyone gets their “fair share” of the payments doled out by the government, hardly a caring or loving goal.

You simply can’t mix “social justice,” as a matter of law, with “justice,” as a matter of law. You can’t treat people equally before the law with your left hand, and treat them unequally before the law with your right, and expect it all to just “work out.” Those you are batting down with your right hand in the name of equal treatment will see those you are building up with your left hand in the name of equal outcomes, and try to move from one form of treatment to another. Those who administer the programs based on “equal outcomes,” will see those who are being batted down in the name of equal treatment as possible clients (after all, who doesn’t want to expand their power and domain?), and help them to move from one column to the other.

This is what happens when you try to take the law, an instrument of justice, and make it into an instrument of mercy.

It’s not that the private sector isn’t big enough, nor that the government is too big, it’s simply that there some things you can’t do with law without destroying the concept of law itself.

It just won’t work, no matter how much money, time, or compassion you throw at it.

2 comments to “Saftey Nets”

  • What is amazing is how difficult it is to persuade people their ideas will not work even after they have tried to make them work for decades. It seems that now matter how well it works they still want to spend other people’s money.

    • Russ

      Yep –I think the key is they don’t want to see their ideas on this front fail, because it would mean going back into their own lives a little more humble, a little more conscious of their own lack of importance and power.

      Thanks for the comment!