Which way does the safety net bulge?

You know you have hit the big time when astute readers send you interesting articles. Okay, the truth is that it’s nice to have some extra eyes and ears out there to help me not to miss too much of the news that interests me.

This story was definitely one of those items. The issue is the reduction of benefits in the Medicaid program in Missouri, but the underlying theme is just as applicable. The conclusion of the article is that while we do not really want to cut government spending on these programs, the government programs are not as effective as having good people meet the needs of the needy around them.

The question sent to me was “what do [I] think of that?”

The answer is simply that the conclusion of the article is correct. When we set up government programs to help people in need the impersonality of the programs leaves them prone to abuse on all sides. The programs get used by some to perpetuate the division of society into classes. People who don’t need the help find ways to channel the money into their own pockets in various ways. (e.g. “hmm, section 8 provides rental assistance to low income people. If I rent to low income people I can charge rental rates at the top of the section 8 range and be assured of a constant income stream.” or “So long as I don’t save up any cash I can get the government to give me a generous allowance in foodstamps each month.”)

I do not mean to imply that everyone in the system is crooked or dishonest. I believe that is not the case, but I also believe that having an impersonal, government run solution makes it easier for those who are crooked to go unnoticed as they feed off the system. The only way a government run system works well is in a society where everybody is basically good and there are no leeches who try to take advantage of the system. A society like that can only be made up of people who care about their neighbors enough to notice them and help out where possible, where they put the needs of others before their own comforts. That kind of society does not require a government program because the help comes from individuals without the bureaucracy.

This does not mean that I propose that we scrap all the bulging safety nets, but it would be helpful if we understood that they are bandaids for the problems rather than solutions. The solution is to improve society and representative government cannot do that. Again, I do not propose to end representative government (if, in fact, that is still what we have) but rather I suggest that we recognize our individual responsibility in improving ourselves as a means to improve society.

About David

David is the father of 8 extremely organized children (4 girls / 4 boys) who is constantly seeking answers to tough questions related to parenting, education and politics while moonlighting for 40 hours each week as a technology professional. He also enjoys cooking, gardening, and sports.
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4 Responses to Which way does the safety net bulge?

  1. David, either tens of millions of poverty-ridden seniors didn’t recognize their individual responsibility to improve themselves before Social Security, or your approach is just wrong.

    I wish I could find the exact quote, but President Clinton once said something like, “A healthy economy is the best social program, but it’s not enough.”

    Certainly, the economy can be improved by reducing the federal deficit, and certainly social programs can be made more efficient, but the root problem isn’t that a few people abuse the system, or that a few people are irresponsible. Everybody I’ve ever met in my entire life is trying to improve themselves, but sometimes it’s just not enough.

  2. David says:

    Thanks for the input. Let me clarify my position.

    I am not trying to suggest that personal improvement on the part of those who need/use government assisstance is the solution, I am suggesting that the kind of society that will eliminate these social problems is based on individuals making sure they are doing all they can to help themselves and those around them.

    What I am suggesting is that people need to keep their eyes open and help their family, friends and co-workers when they are in a position to help. If those who abuse the system are interested in a better society (which they probably are not since they are freeloading already) they would be eliminating the greed in their lives that brings them to be freeloaders.

    I’m sorry if it appeared that I was suggesting that the seniors on Social Security or those who benefit from Medicaid should just suck it up and fix their own problems.

    If everybody that you have met in your entire life is trying to improve themselves then I envy you, and I have more hope for the future.

  3. jason says:

    What I found interesting in the subject article, is that instead of a faceless bureaucracy, help came from an individual person. Because help came from a person, not an entity, the recipient of the aid was obliged to take personal responsibility to pay back a loan and pull herself out of the downturn her situation had taken. When an entity is involved, there’s very little incentive on the part of the recipient to improve their own situation, because they can continue to plead for assistance.

    Imagine the following situation. Suppose you qualify for some form of governmental aid, lets say, for the sake of argument, Medicaid. Now, instead of the government simply writing you a check or paying your bills, they decide to send you an official letter describing your benefit, then instructing you to visit the homes of individual tax-payers, and exacting from each of them the amount they are required to pay into your Medicaid. How likely would you be in that situation to continue over long periods of time to receive the assistance?

    The point is that when the human aspect of wealth redistribution – one person (or many) helping another person – is removed, two problems occur. First, the recipient is robbed of motivation to get out of the situation. Second, the giver (i.e. tax-payer) is robbed of the joy that comes from helping another voluntarily. The account executive in the article, no doubt, benefited as much from the exchange as the clerk needing assistance. Government programs can’t mimic that kind of symbiotic relationship.

  4. David says:

    Not only are people who just get their bills paid by Uncle Sam more likely to keep receiving the assistance for long periods, but the millions of people who are unwillingly paying for that assistance through their taxes are complaining and more motivated to take advantage of the system from the other side (e.g. inflating rental rates to take advantage of section 8).

    The account executive may complain that the system is broken, but she will never complain that she helped her friend, the clerk.

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