Away with the Welfare State! A Catholic Argument for Replacing the State Safety Net
A criticism often heard of libertarians is that we are advocates of the individual, and therefore don’t care about the poor, needy, disabled, sick, etc. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Like most people, I feel it is my moral obligation to do what I can to help anybody who I encounter who needs help. It is helping the poor by means of a state safety net that libertarians oppose. Why? Well, to use an old cliché, “What the government gives, it must first take away.”
It is very Machiavellian to think that stealing from one is somehow justified by giving a small share of what is stolen to a person in need. Obviously, almost everyone, regardless of political affiliation or religion, can agree that we have a responsibility to help people who need it. However, is our responsibility fulfilled when the government takes our money in the form of taxes and then pays out money to people in the form of food stamps, Medicaid, unemployment benefits, or Obamaphones (sorry, I had to)?
Pope John Paul II wrote an encyclical in 1991 entitled Centesimus Annus. In this encyclical, he said:
“[E]xcesses and abuses, especially in recent years, have provoked very harsh criticisms of the Welfare State, dubbed the “Social Assistance State”. Malfunctions and defects in the Social Assistance State are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the State. Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.
By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending“ (emphasis added).
Pope John Paul II attacks a public welfare state from two positions. The first is based on the principle of subsidiarity. He says that a larger entity (the federal government) should not interfere with the functions of smaller entities (states, cities, communities, families, and individuals) but should only support them in case of need.
The other way the Pope attacks the public welfare state is from a position of social responsibility. Left-leaning Catholics and bleeding heart liberals love to argue that if we are opposed to the government taking care of those in need, than we are opposed to taking care of those in need. Logically, this is ludicrous. Pope John Paul II suggests that we are, in fact, shunning our responsibility to help those in need by passing it on to the government. Not only are we shunning it, but the government is actually depriving us of this responsibility!
On a more practical note, evidence suggests that we do not need a public welfare state. Before the 20th century government hyper-expansion that demolished the functions of smaller entities under the euphemisms of “The New Deal” and “The Great Society,” among others, charities in America were abundant! Historian Walter Trattner suggests in reference to charities pre-Woodrow Wilson:
“In fact, so rapidly did private agencies multiply that before long America’s larger cities had what to many people was an embarrassing number of them. Charity directories took as many as 100 pages to list and describe the numerous voluntary agencies that sought to alleviate misery, and combat every imaginable emergency.”
Not only that, but this society of entitlement that we live in today was nowhere to be found! An article on Forbes suggests that America was “a culture that revered individual responsibility and regarded being ‘on the dole’ as shameful, [and] formal charity was almost always a last resort.” It also suggests that “[b]efore America’s entitlement state, free individuals planned for and coped with tough times, taking responsibility for their own lives.”
How foreign does that idea sound in today’s America? This article, written by Walter Williams, actually suggests and provides evidence that everybody (including poor people) is getting richer. Well if everybody is getting richer, why is the public welfare state still expanding? Why is the government still doling out handouts?
Bush ballooned Medicare. Obama did his best to take control of the healthcare system with Obamacare. And if you think Romney will be better, let’s look at last night’s debate. Romney said that if good students met certain requirements, “they got a four-year tuition- free ride at any Massachusetts public institution of higher learning.” FREE RIDE? Do you really think that nobody is paying for that education? I digress from the topic of student loans and education handouts though; that is an entirely different monster. However, if you Romney is going to do anything about the public welfare state besides expand it, you may need to look a little closer at the things that he says.
In summary, the public welfare state is literally expropriating our responsibility to help those in need. We need to replace the public safety net with a private one. Not only is it the moral way, but it will also save us a heckuva lotta money.