Isn’t a Welfare State American?

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October 29, 2009 by D Stack

An age ago I read Ayn Rand’s the Fountainhead and read up on her views on Objectivism. She viewed the ideal economic system as unrestrained laissez faire capitalism. No government intervention in the economy. No welfare state.

She was, and remains, a major influence on the Libertarian Party of the United States. Their web page on Poverty and Welfare includes the following (retrieved October 30, 2009)

1. End Welfare

None of the proposals currently being advanced by either conservatives or liberals is likely to fix the fundamental problems with our welfare system. Current proposals for welfare reform, including block grants, job training, and “workfare” represent mere tinkering with a failed system.

It is time to recognize that welfare cannot be reformed: it should be ended.

We should eliminate the entire social welfare system. This includes eliminating AFDC, food stamps, subsidized housing, and all the rest. Individuals who are unable to fully support themselves and their families through the job market must, once again, learn to rely on supportive family, church, community, or private charity to bridge the gap.

2. Establish a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for contributions to private charity

If the federal government’s attempt at charity has been a dismal failure, private efforts have been much more successful. America is the most generous nation on earth. We already contribute more than $125 billion annually to charity. However, as we phase out inefficient government welfare, private charities must be able to step up and fill the void.

To help facilitate this transfer of responsibility from government welfare to private charity, the federal government should offer a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for contributions to private charities that provide social-welfare services. That is to say, if an individual gives a dollar to charity, he should be able to reduce his tax liability by a dollar.

It sounds appealing. But I can’t imagine that working. We had that economic system in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. People who lost their jobs in times of depression or recession were vulnerable to homeless, starvation, malnutrition. Many of their children were unable to go to school, having literally no clothing.

So this statement: “Individuals who are unable to fully support themselves and their families through the job market must, once again, learn to rely on supportive family, church, community, or private charity to bridge the gap.” Or what? What if they can’t? What if their entire family or community is out of work and out of money? Charities in the early 1930s quickly ran out of money. What to do with the parent who has a child with special needs or massive medical expenses? And if there is no charity to help pay for those expenses? Let the child die, even if he has a treatable condition.

Is this what we strive to build as a community? I’m not one who views the government as a solution for everything. But in the 21st century is the best society we can build one that can be so brutal to let people suffer and die when they need not? Does the child of irresponsible parents deserve to be punished for their mistakes? Does a person deserve to suffer because of her genetic code? Is leveraging the government to tend to people’s basic needs really that much of an anathema to America? Consider our founding document, the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

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