Contrasting Economic Visions

This morning on the way to an appointment, I was listening to Bill O’Reilly‘s Radio Factor podcast from 7/18 (I’m a little behind), and the topic of the second hour was welfare and the 10th anniversary of the 1996 welfare reform.  This legislation was proposed by President Clinton, and passed overwhelmingly by congress.  Only the most committed liberals voted against it, some of whose names you would recongnize as they’re still in congress today — Boxer, Finestein, Kennedy, etc.

Bill’s stated purpose was to talk about the success of the legislation.  He cited some fascinating statistics, and of course made all kinds of interesting and provactive comments.  Check this out…

In August 1996 (the year the reform was passed), 4.5 million families were on welfare.  In December 2005, 1.9 million families were on welfare.  That’s a drop of 57.6%.  Wow!

Bill also cited a USA Today article which tracked 3 families from 1996 to 2006, which was really interesting as well.  Article clearly leans conservative, but still pretty stark.  Here’s are the three families (their state in ’96): 

  • 2 children, 3rd on the way, neither had a job, no education
  • 25, 3 children under 8 by three different guys, never married, no education
  • 32, cut from welfare after being on for 15 years, 5 children, 4 fathers, no education

I’ll let you read the article to get more details, but the summary is that they are all much more successful now that they’ve been forced to actually work for what they have.  What I found really poignant in Bill’s comments was that he pulled no punches about the fact that these 3 women all had two things in common:  1) no education, and 2) kids, too many, too early, too un-married, too irresponsible.

So, three things…  First, an analysis of the two sides of the debate and a few definitions.  Second, my opinion.  And third, my opinion…

Liberal / Socialist

The government has an obligation to generally provide for citizens.  Citizens have a right to have what they want.  “The government takes care of me.”

High taxes.  Safety nets.  Government attempts to provide guarantees to people.  Income is redistributed.  A person’s motivation is drained from them.  Even if I don’t work hard, I have the right to have.  Appears fair to whoever’s on the bottom, and weak/permissive/destructive by whoever’s on top — it’s about “the little guy”.  Focus is on society; my life is the government’s responsibility.  Ultimiately, government ultimately controls the economy.  Believes that the economy is driven by the worker (the poor).

Conservative / Capitalist

The government has an obligation to provide opportunity and security only for citizens.  Citizens have a right to opportunity, and a responsibility to work hard and help provide that opportunity for others.  “I take care of myself.”

Lower taxes.  Few safety nets.  Few guarantees, except for opportunity.  I keep what I earn.  Motivation is the key.  The harder I work, the more I have; if I don’t work, I have nothing.  Appears fair to whoever’s on top, and cruel/unfair to whoever’s on bottom — it’s about “the man”.  Focus is on self; my life is my responsibility.  Ultimiately, private industry ultimately controls the economy.  Believes that the economy is driven by investment (the rich).

Bill’s opinion…

“Ameria is the land of opportunity.  If you seize the opportunity, you will succeed.  Honest, work hard, get educated, you’ll succeed….  If you’ve got 3 kids by the time you’re 21, and there’s nobody there supporting you — no husband, no boyfriend — then you’re gonna be poor.  That should be in bold letters in every school in America.”

My opinion…

I can’t disagree with Bill at all on this one.  He’s right, and so is the conservative perspective.  If we create a society that depends on the government … that depends on other people giving me stuff … then we cannot success.  At best, we’ll be like Europe (socialistic and weak).  At worst, we’ll be overrun by the Islamic fascists.  We are in the middle of World War III, and we simply can’t afford this kind of weakening from the inside. 

America is a wealthy nation.  We absolutely have the responsibility as a society to help those among us who are less fortunate.  But that responsibility is to help them to succeed and get out of any kind of dependence, not to help them be continually dependent.  Self-reliance is the key, not hand-outs … and you can teach people to value either.  The liberal mindset, predominantly, is to teach dependence.  The conservative mindset, predominantly, is to teach independence.

Should those who have be generous and share with those who have much less?  Absolutely.  Should the government be given the power to force people to do so?  No.  If they are given that power, how will we be any different than the USSR?  And for those of us who remember, the whole communism thing doesn’t really work out all that well.

About Jeff Block

Lover and follower of Jesus, the long awaited King. Husband and father. Writer and seminary student. On a long, difficult, joyful adventure, learning to swim with the current of God's sovereign love and walk with Him in the garden in the cool of the day.
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8 Responses to Contrasting Economic Visions

  1. Brad Bull says:

    These opinions seem far too simpleminded (black and white).
    1. 30 years ago if you were black your work ethic didn’t matter, 60 years ago for the Irish, 10 years ago for women.
    2. You place no blame on the fathers who are not helping the mothers you persecute in your opinion.
    3. Do children get a minimum standard of living or is it dog eat dog like the adults?
    If it weren’t for some government oversight on the economy we would still be in the robber-baron Upton Sinclair world. No social security, no WPA, etc. Personally I don’t think capitolist opportunity and social welfare are mutually exclusive. I am more concerned about the $0.34 per dollar going to the military than the $0.008 per dollar going to welfare.


  2. Jeff Block says:

    Thanks for the comments, Brad. Let me respond…

    1) Not sure I understand what you’re saying here.

    2) Not at all. There’s plenty of blame to go around. I have a huge problem with a “man” who would get a woman pregnant, then bolt, leaving her to deal with it. That guy gets no respect from me. But my focus here isn’t to debate the various aspects of out-of-wedlock pregnancy. The simple fact is (like Bill said)… if you’ve got a few kids by age 21 and nobody with you to help you take care of them, then you’re going to be poor. No amount of entitlements will change that. Same if you’re a guy and choose video games or drugs or gangs or whatever over an education and honest hard work. Those paths lead to poverty (or a life of crime).

    3) Not sure I follow here either. Dog-eat-dog (no laws or regulations) = bad. People taking responsibility for their own lives, making their own way, and not relying on the government for handouts = good.

    4) I’m all for *some* regulation. There’s a balance to be struck. What I’m not for is taking away people’s incentive to work. Let’s not increase money going to welfare, let’s decrease the number of people who need welfare. That doesn’t happen because we throw more money at the system (as the last 60 years have clearly demonstrated); it happens when we raise expectations, educate, remove incentives not to work, and pull alongside people (help them through personally, not by sending a check).


  3. brad bull says:

    I guess the fundamental disagreement we have is that you believe the welfare system discourages people from working (who would otherwise be able to work). Having seen the standard of living of people on welfare I find that hard to believe. My first point was that until very recently many people were artificially kept poor by being denied opportunity (some of this probably still exists).

    My points were not very clear. I was trying to point out that I believe reducing welfare disproportionatly effects children who shouldn’t be held accountable for the sins of their father (and mother). I think they deserve a minimum standard of living as U.S. citizens that welfare affords them.

    I agree with you that for many people no amount of entitlements will elevate them out of poverty. But a small amount of entitlements can ensure their children will be fed regularly, have opportunities to better themselves, and maybe get a pair of name brand shoes (you may laugh at this one but it can have an amazing impact on a poor childs self-esteem). Again this is part of the balance.

    Pulling families out of poverty would be much better, and I think we are doing that. It is far more uncommon for a family in poverty to have dirt floors, no electricity or running water than it was 30 years ago. You may be surprised to know that Eryn has visited families like that, so they do still exist.


  4. Eryn Bull says:

    What never ceases to amaze me is the fact the people (including mr. bill oreily) who begrudge the SMALL amount given to our poorest citezens know very little about the welfare system and policies, very little about the intended and unintended consequences of changes to welfare policy, and for that matter have no idea what it is like to be poor and receiving assistnace. If you think the poor do not work you are simply ignoring reality. Daily life is a struggle for the poor and the simplicity of everyday tasks that we take for granted does not exist for the poor. Not to mention the fact that there are families in our country who work full time and are still poor. We live in a society of great wealth and excess, yet there are factors built into our society that are designed to keep the poor poor. There are unwritten rules and behaviors that keep people from poverty from moving to middle class. There is lack of opportunity and exploitation. And God forbid we be expected to share a tiny faction of our income with those less fortunate. Look at scientific, empiracal studies related to poverty instead of opinions based on half truths. Look to the aha project, or bridges out of poverty, or the southern poverty law center.

    Simply quoting statistics about reducing the welfare numbers does not speak of making things better.

    Blaming the victim of poverty provides people in middle class a false seinse of security. The reality is very few of us are immune to poverty. Circumstances have just been our favor so far. A lawsuit, illness, or other unexpected event could easily deplete resources that we have and we would be the ones relying on the safety net. If we blindly blame the victim, however, and look for fault in them we can somehow make ourselves feel superior and immune to their plight.


  5. Jeff Block says:

    I find this fascinating… Both of you, Brad and Eryn, got out here and just *opened up* about all kinds of things that NOBODY has said in this post. You guys seem pretty trigger happy on this issue. Are you sure you’re not reading a little (lot) into what I’m saying here?

    Let me re-summarize. Our society is wealthy. We have an obligation to help those less fortunate among us. However, we should focus on getting them OUT of where they are. It’s VERY unhealthy for our society to be dependent on the government. The entire point of my post was to contrast philosophies of self-reliance vs. dependence on the government. I’m confused where I said that I hate poor pregnant women — which is what you both seem to be implying.

    Let me respond to a couple specific points…

    Re: “begrudge the SMALL amount given to our poorest citezens”

    We spend over 8% of the GDP on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid alone. Most studies I’ve seen say that this number will skyrocket over the next coupla decades. And that doesn’t take into account the many other programs in play. So, I’m not sure the “amount given to our poorest citezens” is that small. US GDP = $11.75 trillion, so SS+Medicare+Medicaid = $940 billion, or $3100 for every man, woman and child in America if evenly distributed (which I’m not suggesting).

    Re: “people who … have no idea what it is like to be poor”

    My parents were dirt poor. My mom’s clothes were made out of the gunny sacks potatos came in. My dad (blue collar) worked 2 jobs almost his entire life. I am the product of their incredibly hard work. If they had choosen to allow themselves to be dependent on the government instead of working their way out of abject poverty, I submit I would not have what I have today. Also it is a well-established fact that Bill O’Reilly, though now very wealthy, came from a very modest background. Just FYI.

    Re: “If you think the poor do not work you are simply ignoring reality.”

    Please point out where I said that poor people don’t work.

    Re: “There is lack of opportunity and exploitation.”

    While I agree that the poor are exploited, I do not agree that there is a lack of opportunity. Where in the world is their more opportunity and less exploitation than America? Our unemployment rate is the lowest in the world, and has been so for decades. What system would you prefer that would give the poor more opporunity and exploit them less?

    Re: “God forbid we be expected to share a tiny faction of our income with those less fortunate”

    I pay about half what I make in taxes. So, again, it doesn’t feel so tiny. Also, I have already said many times that we should feel obligated in a nation as well-off as ours to help provide for the poor. I do wish that people gave more willingly, instead of being coerced to do so through taxation, but that’s unrealistic.

    Re: “Blaming the victim of poverty provides people in middle class a false seinse of security… If we blindly blame the victim, however, and look for fault in them we can somehow make ourselves feel superior and immune to their plight.”

    Please cite where I “blamed the victim” for poverty. Ii do not feel somehow “superior” to them or anyone else. I’m analyzing economic philosophy / policy here.

    Re: “The reality is very few of us are immune to poverty. Circumstances have just been our favor so far.”

    While you’re right that unforeseen and unfortunate circumstances can hit at any time, and even be devestating, I disagree with the implication that the rich are rich because of luck and the poor are poor because of luck. Sometimes that true, of course. But many times, wealthy people (especially 1st generation wealth) are wealthy because they are extremely hard working, disciplined, frugle, etc. I’m not wealthy, but (just as a for instance) I currently give 10% of my salary to charity and save about 16.5%. Last year, when I was making a lot more (this year I’m part of a startup — so risk goes up, paycheck goes down), both those stats were higher. Because I save diligently and spend within my means (as my parents did), I am far less suseptible to what you’re describing. However, many Americans do NOT save, and spend more than they make (average person over 18 in the US has $10k on credit cards), and that creates tremendous instablity. Under these conditions, yes, one wrong move and we’re in big trouble.

    I guess what I’m saying is that in the same way it’s false to think that wealth / poverty has NOTHING to do with luck, it is false to think that wealth / poverty has ONLY to do with luck (as you seem to imply).


  6. Eryn Bull says:

    Maybe we are both reading more into eachother. Luck is not my fundamental argument here, it is that there are more foces in play than most people realize.

    I understand that you feel it is unhealthy to rely on the government, but I fall into that liberal group that believes our govenrment has a basic duty to provide a safety net. No one else does. It would be different if there were adequate private organizations or faith based groups to help, but there are not and I don’t believe you should leave people to suffer. I consider it a part of my faith and system of beleifs that we are to look out for eachother.

    When you talk about 8% of GDP going to social security, medicare, and medicaid combined this does not seem like a big number to me.

    As far as talking about the poor not working your posts talks about if you work harder you have more and if you don’t work you don’t have anything. You also talk about people actually being forced to work for what they have.

    You and I both came from modest working class homes. We did not come from poverty.

    There is absolutely a lack of opportunity for people. Unemployment may be down but these numbers are deceiving. They do not reflect all of the unemployed population. Did you know once your unemployment benefits run out, you are no longer considered unemployed? This number also does not reflect the huge number of people who are underemployed. There have been increases in available jobs, yes, but many of these jobs are low paying, entry level compared to to higher paying jobs that have been lost so there is still overall loss.

    Brad and I also understand what is like to be a high tax bracket and neither one of us sees more than half our check either, but we realize that the actual amount of our tax dollars that goes to welfare is small. Like you, I also wish people would give more willingly, but I think this is unrealistic.

    While I talk about circumstances, I am not talking about luck, I am talking about the multitude of factors that have influenced who you and I are today. I am talking about opportunity, envirnomental fit, famil background and support, and yes even hard work (liberals believe in it too 🙂 When talking about not being immune from poverty Brad and I also save, give to church and charities, we don’t have credit card debt and we live within our means, if not below. But we also don’t kid ourselves with a false sense of security. We are still vulneralbe as are most people, excluding the extremely wealthy.

    Oh I never said you hated poor pregnant women. But when most people start complaining about welfare there is usually (whether intended or not) a misogystic and judgemental undertone.

    Sorry if you are shocked but poverty is a passion of mine. I’ve studied it in grad school and I work with the poorest of poor everyday. I constantly read new literature and research of poverty, attend continuing education events, etc. So my opinions and the information I give you aren’t just pulled from no where. And I beleive in them just as firmly as you beleive in yours.

    You know I love you or I wouldn’t have even bothered posting 🙂


  7. brad says:

    I see where you think we *opened up*. For me, the instigator was the “welfare reform act” and the comparison to communism. The welfare reform act imposed arbitrary limits on how long a person could recieve benefits. This means the drop of 57.6% is meaningless because you don’t know if those people are any better off, with the exception of the 3 families in the USA today article. I agree with you that getting people in a position where they no long need welfare is the best strategy.
    In reference to your and Eryn’s discussion about opportunity, I would also add ability to the mix. Many factors inhibit a persons ability to seize an opportunity or to be self-reliant.


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