American Elephants

Calvin Helin Speaks About the People of the First Nation. by The Elephant's Child


Calvin Helin is a lawyer, an author and frequent speaker in Canada.  His two books speak eloquently of the problem of dependency among the First Nation, Canada’s indigenous people. As I quoted Michael Knox Beran in the previous piece: “To be pitied by another man is to stand humiliated before him, however well intentioned programs grounded in pity may be, they always end by laying low their intended beneficiaries.” Mr. Helin tells how this has affected his people.  A moving conversation.

(h/t: Small Dead Animals)

Pity, Compassion, and Obama’s Welfare State. by The Elephant's Child

These are the facts of the matter. Conservatives don’t worry much about “the rich.” They want to become rich themselves, or at least richer, and they mostly believe that it will come about through their own efforts. [I’m speaking in generalities here, I’m sure there are some conservatives who are simply eaten up with envy].

Liberals worry a lot about “the rich” because they think it is unfair for some to be rich while others are poor. These worries can be pinned on the Treasury Department, it’s subsidiary the IRS, and the Census Bureau. The Treasury Department wants to know how Americans are doing, and uses statistics from the IRS and the census to try to measure that.  They divide Americans up into five classes:  poor, lower middle class, middle class, upper middle class, and the rich, each composed of 20% of the income pie. Liberals look at those statistics and are sure that you can take away enough from the rich to make the poor no longer poor.

The poor, however, are composed of the bottom 20% of the income pie, and will always be so—no matter how much better off they become. It is only a statistical anomaly.  Statistically, our poor are better off than the middle class in many European countries in terms of the way they live: rooms per person, appliances, vehicles, utilities,  that sort of thing.

Over time, the poor are not the same people, nor are the rich the same people. Income mobility has always been a major feature of the American economy. Some of the poor end up rich, most end up in a different category. Many of the rich don’t stay rich. The list of Forbes billionaires changes. every year.

A Census Bureau study shows that from 2004 to 2007, about a third of the households in the highest income quintile (the top 20%) moved down to another income group. In the same period, a third of those in the lowest income group moved to a higher group.

Consider the fictional case of J. Worthington Cabot.  He graduated from Wharton in June, spent the summer in Majorca, and began work at Cabot, Cabot and Smith in October. On his tax return for that year, he has only 3  months of beginning salary at the family firm. Statistically he is poor. You can make up your own fictional but typical example, to see how statistics fool us.

Income does not come in a fixed pie of five equal parts.  But the Treasury’s five income classes loom large in the minds of politicians. The success or failure of their electoral hopes may depend on the public impression of how they treat the rich and the poor.  And that’s how we get the welfare state. It is not created by public demand, but by politicians.

Michael Knox Beran, in his book The Pathology of the Elites describes the sort of compassion exhibited by liberals:

The type of compassion modern liberals claim as their own peculiar virtue is really a form of pity…dangerous in its own right. … It is the false compassion that results when men exercise their kindness by committee: it is the look in the eyes of the welfare clerk or the public housing official.  To be pitied by another man is to stand humiliated before him; however well intentioned programs grounded in pity may be, they always end by laying low their intended beneficiaries. Pity does not lead to a flourishing in the pitied, though it may provoke their resentment, even their rage; the act of pitying is always a kind of strength condescending to weakness. Love awakens; pity oppresses.

Today the U.S. government operates over 70 welfare programs that span 13 government departments. Last year, the government  spent roughly $900 billion total on means-tested welfare programs.  And the government is projected to spend $10.3 trillion on welfare over the next ten years. In spite of all this spending, poverty rates remain virtually unchanged since the 1960s.

Currently the government funds over ten food assistance programs.  In the 1960s  the U.S. spent just over $2 billion (in constant 2008 dollars) on food assistance programs, by 2008 it was spending $63 billion.

Representatives Jim Jordan (R-OH), Tim Scott (R-SC), Scott Garrett (R-NJ), Dan Burton (R-IN), and Louis Gohmert (R-TX) introduced the Welfare Reform Act of 2011.  The bill seeks to curb current out-of-control welfare spending once the recession ends by rolling back total welfare spending to pre-recession (fiscal year 2007) levels.  This action would force the government to determine which programs to keep or cut based on whether they meet the goal of reducing poverty.  In addition, today there are few who are aware of the entire scope of welfare spending of the 70-plus welfare programs spread far and wide throughout federal departments.

This bill calls for government accountability by requiring the federal government to “detail current and future aggregate welfare spending in the President’s annual budget.

We have a history of helping individuals and families by promoting work.  In 1996 Congress successfully reformed the largest cash assistance program — Aid to Families with Dependent Children—by creating work requirements.  As a result millions of families were able to leave welfare and child poverty dropped dramatically.  Jordan’s bill would expand work requirements to food stamps, currently one of the largest welfare programs. Welfare should not mean lifetime government dependence as has been the case in recent decades.

America’s success as an independent and prosperous country has come from a citizenry that has prided itself on self-reliance instead of “government handouts.”

Brookings Institution has indicated what it takes to avoid being poor.  Young people need to do three things. 1. graduate from high school. 2. get a job. 3. get married, and wait until they are 21 before having a baby.

The Welfare State is failing everywhere. Societies require everyone those who are able to be self-reliant.  There simply is not enough money to support large percentages of the population on welfare. There will always be those who truly need help, and those who must be cared for because they cannot care for themselves. True compassion requires that we do right by them.

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