October 10, 2011

The US Social Welfare System – What Is Its Real Purpose? Is It Moral To Force Citizens To Fund It With Their Tax Payments?

I am not an economist, sociologist or political scientist.  I therefore do not know the past and current literature and statistics in these fields.  What follows is my opinion as it is informed by my understanding of culture, human nature, my general education, and my life experience in the US and elsewhere.

I am not aware that the American social welfare system has failed to fulfill its promise, as many claim.  The argument that the $16 trillion spent on this system between 1965 and 2008 has led to a society where 1 out of 6 currently live below the poverty line and that 1 in 4 children live in households that depend on the government for food is an indicator that social welfare has failed, is a misplacement of cause and effect.  The fact that we have poverty and hunger in the US is not causally connected to our national expenditure on the welfare system.  Many on the right seem to be saying that $16 trillion should have pretty much bought us out of poverty and filled most of the stomachs of the poor.

The real problem with this reasoning is that money spent on the welfare system is not spent with the intention of eradicating poverty, hunger and their causes.  It is intended to be a stopgap response to help avert the utter degradation and destruction of human lives and families, and forestall damage that such fearful and desperate citizens might do to the fabric and well-being of society.

Those who wish to abolish or reform welfare often assert that it diminishes the self-esteem of the recipient and makes him a ward of the state, and thereby strips him of his aspiration to be productive and independent.  Though this is an accurate description of too many individuals on US welfare roles, past and present, the fact that such conditions exist is far from a proven indictment of the entire social welfare system.

I do not believe the social welfare system of the US has failed and is in need of replacement as many Libertarians, Republicans and conservatives claim.  I agree with those who believe it needs, as a friend has said, to be “reformed gradually and with great care.”

I think the most sorely needed reform pertains to the minority of persons who turn the stopgap life preservation efforts of the social welfare system into a personal work-free living.  Such a reform can only be accomplished effectively by initiating corrective action among those who manage, supervise and implement the system.  In particular, better social welfare approval and disbursement monitoring, and rule, regulation and law compliance and infraction enforcement are needed.  “Welfare reform” was undertaken during the 1990s with some success.  Perhaps it is with the successes and failures of this earlier effort that current reform efforts should begin.

Certainly the first tasks for any reform effort must be to: 1) thoroughly review all current welfare legislation and regulations in light of the system’s stopgap paradigm, and its stated goals and objectives; 2) assess levels of compliance with welfare laws, regulations and procedures, especially on the part of managers, supervisors and caseworkers; and 3) assess the effectiveness of the Department of Health and Human Services, especially at local levels, in terms of law, regulation and procedure compliance, fraud deterrence and infraction enforcement.

As for those who argue that the US social welfare system should be replaced, let’s examine two criteria that characterize their argument:  1) citizens should not be forced to support any replacement welfare system through taxation; and 2) it should not engender long-term generational dependency on its benefits.

The first criterion is that whatever the replacement is, replacement advocates say, it must be moral and not rely on coercion.  Coercion in the sense of forcing citizens to give money, their taxes, to pay for social welfare systems.  This they regard to be an act tantamount to stealing and therefore it is immoral.  This criterion seems to me to be not only illogical but impossible to satisfy.

To say that a citizen should not be forced to provide for the welfare of the downtrodden is a violation of the social contract that we humans accept when we are born.  In modern societies legislated taxation is part of that contract.  The well-being of each and every individual is dependent upon the health, safety and security of the society.  That our taxes go to pay for education, fire and police services, for example, the “good” we receive from society, is morally indistinguishable from the taxes we pay to protect ourselves from the “bad,” taxes paid for jails, prisons, psychiatric hospitals, and the social welfare system.  It is the last of these services that serves as a stopgap measure to help downtrodden citizens in states of depravity and desperation from further harming themselves and others.

The second criterion concerning not engendering long-term generational dependency can be addressed by the reforms I suggested above.  Submitting oneself to welfare is seldom a conscious decision of someone with equally viable options - work or go on welfare. Many in abject poverty, in the US and elsewhere in the world, have sunk below what most think as a noble quality of their humanity. They have no future of productivity and independence to mortgage. Grinding poverty for them is an immediate not future matter.

I do not share the right’s belief that the failings of the social welfare system should bear the sole burden of responsibility for seducing the downtrodden to submit themselves to its patronage, and facilitating their choosing to remain in enslavement.  People enter and remain in the welfare system not so much because of the seduction of the dysfunctional social welfare system, rather more because the society, including both the private and public sectors, has not provided sufficient educational and employment opportunities options for them.

The answer to welfare reform is compliance with and enforcement of social welfare laws and regulations.  The answer to why people seek and stay on welfare is that it is a more accessible option than those available to them in education and in the job market.

It has been said that the “seeds of greatness are in every human being.”  Yes, some seeds, the heartiest and sometimes the lucky, can germinate and prosper in the cracks of tenement sidewalks.  Most cannot.  For most people, the seeds of greatness need the nourishment of minimally stable parenting, education, and opportunities for employment.

The social welfare system of the US does not exist to eradicate poverty.  It is intended to temporally help ameliorate the negative personal and societal consequences of the health or economic failure or disaster that befall some of its citizens.  Blaming welfare for poverty is blaming the treatment rather the cause of poverty.  Social welfare is not a cure for poverty, as many of its critics and some of its advocates wrongly believe.  Welfare treats only the symptoms of the causes of poverty.  It treats the dehumanization of insufficient parenting and lack of educational and employment opportunities that drive the downtrodden to welfare.

Strong Libertarianism is a myth, an exaggerated, distortion or inflation of the personal liberté sought in the French and American Revolutions.  No society has ever proven to be sustainable that did not coerce (via taxes or social sanctions) its members to provide for, in part, the well-being of the impoverished within the larger group – from the San (Bushmen) of the Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa to the complex urban democracies of the West.

I believe that liberty can flourish in a coercive tax environment.  In fact, I believe that in most societies liberty would not be sustainable without a coercive tax system.  Taxation by coercion has been the single most important contributor to a relatively healthy, safe and secure society in the US, a society that continues to allow more individual freedom than in any other society in history.  I do agree that taxation should not be undertaken beyond what is needed for a healthy, safe and secure society.

One must experience grinding poverty firsthand.  Not so they will feel sympathy, rather to understand personally the worldview and more importantly the bleak educational, economic and political options the downtrodden face.  The realities of modern life, particularly in the Western societies, do not allow all citizens equal access to educational, economic and political options.  Many on the right too often forget that where one ends up depends in large part on where one begins.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just like the Left and the Right I think you confuse two issues that are inherently interrelated. Self appraisal and bureaucracy.

After some existance a program such as Social Welfare System require some form of "audit" so as to see if it is functioning as intended. If properly conducted the findings of the audit should form a basis for calibration or complete elimination - It is a case of "Am I getting enough for my money"?? All that is required in the audit precess is acceptable paradigm. I am well aware how hard it is to formulate such a paradigm in social settings. Difficulty should not be the basis for inaction. Could then be that rhetoric from either the Left or Right is a call for the appraisal of Social Welfare System?

As for bureaucracy all it has done to us human beings is that we have been reduced to just parts. Could be all if not most of all the noise is the case of "what about me"??? In other words the noises are cases of poor individuals expressing sence of alienation that is part of bereaucracy.

As a conclusion could be the noises from both the Left and is just a debate or a call of action. All we need is to guard against any censorship of the debate and or forcing one's idea to the populace without unbaised scrutiny.

PS I am still "MJOMBA"