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Welfare: Provide it
or Promote it?

June 22, 2015

The U.S. Constitution says it’s the federal government’s responsibility to “promote the general welfare,” nowhere does it say the government should “provide” it! There is a big difference, and what we see coming out of Washington these days is an effort to provide it, not promote it.  Getting these two mixed up is having disastrous consequences.
It is clear that Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin thought government had an obligation to help those who were unable to provide for themselves – children, disabled, widows and those physically unable.  They also insisted that aid include work-requirements for those who were able-bodied.  They knew that handouts would create dependencies on the government – something they opposed.  Franklin said, “I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.”

Our founding fathers also thought local control of assistance was essential. They never envisioned the federally administered programs of today.  With local oversight authorities were more likely to know the individual’s basic needs.  Their goal was to help with needs; not sustain a lifestyle.  They wanted to minimize incentives to act irresponsibility while protecting the taxpayers’ money and human decency. They also placed importance on keeping the family/life-long marriage as a key means of support for everyone, rich and poor alike.

The welfare system we have today lacks incentives to break the dependency on government – causing a continued drain on limited taxpayer revenues – and reducing the possibility the poor may become productive taxpaying citizens.
Governor Ronald Reagan [R-CA] instituted a work requirement in order to receive state assistance.   More recently, a Missouri legislator introduced legislation to prohibit able-bodied welfare recipients from receiving food stamps unless they worked.  His bill also limits the foods a recipient can purchase with food stamps.  Apparently some recipients were purchasing crab legs, lobster and filet mignon with their stamps.

Reagan made an astute observation, “A government can't control the economy without controlling people.  And they know when a government sets out to do that; it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose."

It is clear that the present approach isn’t working.  Over $22 trillion has been spent on the war on poverty but the poverty level in our country has remained nearly the same as it was back in 1965.  

Among the most destructive features of the post-1965 welfare regime has been its unintentional dismantling of the family.  The government check is larger for unwed mothers with children than for families with the father present.  This encourages single mothers not to marry because of the financial burden doing so would create. Economically some find it better to stay single, have more children, and collect more welfare benefits.

Reagan’s approach to reducing poverty was to enlarge the size of the economic pie instead of making sure every person got an equal slice.  By promoting – not providing – for the general welfare, opening new avenues for prosperity, and discouraging generations of welfare families we can help people obtain self esteem while becoming wage earners.  But in order to do so, we need to move away from the worldview that we see among those in the current Administration.

Bill, Mark, and John

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