In a recent post, Brad put forth the idea that our country is what it is (extremely strong and extremely powerful) in part because it has effectively blended capitalism and socialism. As I understand it, he argues that socialism has some great ideas, and when you extract the best of what socialism has to offer, and mix it with capitalism, then you get a strong country like the US. Here are his words…
Many socialist beliefs are very admirable. The idea to take the best of these and incorporate them into capitalism has made us the stable power we are today. Tax exemptions, unemployment insurance, WPA, Social Security, almost any federal regulatory agency, these all augment pure capitalism to give us a strong and stable economy.
There are lots of things we could talk about here. Some of what he says here, I agree with. An example would be in government-enforced anti-monopoly laws. But for this post, I want to focus on social security. Brad is making the point that “social security … has given us a strong and stable economy.” It has “made us the stable power we are today.” So, this post has a strong question / poll component… Do you agree?
Here’s my position… I totally disagree. (shock!)
I disagree with the entire concept of a social safety net in the form it exists today. We are a wealthy society, and as such we do have an obligation to protect the weak and poor in our midst. If someone gets hurt at work and cannot provide for themselves, then we (as a society) should help them. If someone loses their job and needs temporary assistance to help them get back on their feet, then we should help them do that too. Education through the 12th grade should be free, so that everyone has equal opportunity to make something of their lives – not just those who can afford school. When a disaster strikes (such as Hurricane Katrina), we should help those who were wiped out by the disaster (although I would have executed many of the details far differently – but that’s a distraction). All these programs, which could be labeled “entitlements”, I support. A wealthy nation such as ours has obligations to the poor and weak and underprivileged among us.
What I don’t like is the idea that the government will provide for my retirement or give me a paycheck if I’m too poor. Neither was that the original vision for the program, nor is it reasonable / feasible to execute, nor is it good for the country. The social security program in its current form effectively communicates to (especially poorer, less educated) people that their retirement is taken care of. Don’t worry about fiscal responsibility. Don’t worry about saving. Don’t worry about being wise with or taking care of your money. The government’s got your back. There’s a safety net. If you don’t save or don’t try or don’t hold down the job, no big deal. You are entitled to a liviing wage in retirement.
Social security was formed in 1948 after the war, which followed the Great Depression. In the face of new-found economy prosperity, a generation of people who had had nothing now wanted security – assurances that something like the 30’s would never happen again. Now, 60 years later, there exist people who have lived off the system for generations, children who grow up knowing nothing else than to expect the monthly check from Uncle Sam, etc. And we have to keep raising the amounts we collect and shell out, because what the elderly are getting out of social security isn’t providing enough to be a living wage. Plus there are far fewer people putting money into the system now per person taking money out than there were 50 years ago. This doesn’t mean that we keep raising the anti, it means we need to realize that this thing is broken – a flawed idea from the get-go, and put together a different plan.
I believe social security saps initiative, as do so many of socialism’s tenants. They are idealistic, assuming that people are self-motivated, regardless of their circumstance. This is simply not true. Human nature is greedy, lazy, selfish – unless motivated to be otherwise. In my mind, social security falls under the general category of “welfare” for this reason. Perhaps I define welfare differently than others, but here’s my definition… Paying people what you feel they deserve to have instead of in response to what they earn. Social security is an example, albeit a retirement-centric one. Many other welfare programs are more direct, such as food-stamps, etc.
Here’s the why-Jeff-believes-welfare-in-general-is-bad-for-our-country story…
My grandfather was born in 1907. He was the 2nd oldest of 7 children – one older brother, and 5 younger siblings. His parents both died before he finished high school – in the same year. Actually, his mother was committed to a TB sanitarium, which was essentially the same as death. He was 16, his brother had just graduated, and his youngest sister was 2 years old. His older brother took off, because he had his diploma, and saw the way out, leaving my grandfather to care for his 5 younger siblings (ages 2 through 14) at the age of 16. There was no welfare, no social security, no safety net. By today’s standards – if we listen to the message of many liberals – he should have starved to death in the streets along with his siblings. How could anyone survive under such horrible conditions unless we start giving them stuff?! Instead, he rose to the occasion.
Grandpa dropped out of high school (never finished his education), and worked as everything from a coal miner to a wheat farmer to a millwright to an electrician. He found work wherever he could and did what it took to raise his siblings, even through WWI and into the Depression. His neighbors helped. He grew a lot of his own food (which he had to learn how to do) in a garden in the backyard. The kids all helped with taking care of the house, and each other. Every other child got a high school education. My grandfather sacrificed incredibly to make it happen.
And eventually, my mother (an only child) went to college. The first in that family. And now I have much of what I have today, because this man (my grandfather) worked his butt off to provide – to make a life for his family, and for future generations. His work ethic, passed down through my mother, and my father’s work ethic that came from his parents, has been passed on to me. Now, I work my tail off for what I have. Out of every dollar I earn, I give some away, and I save some for the future – which has been true no matter what my salary has been, even when I worked at Taco Bell in college. Only after that, do I spend anything.
My question… Was it social security and other welfare programs that made this country great, or was it my grandfather and his work ethic and the hundreds of millions of men and women like him that worked their butts off like he did to build a life in the context of freedom? Does social security teach this kind of work ethic? Does a safety net make a man work and sacrifice like this?
My father was a mailman. For over 20 years, he walked 9 miles a day to deliver mail in the small town in which I grew up. Before that, before I was born, he worked two jobs to get ahead (no assistance from anyone) – but that’s an aside. When he would deliver the mail in the hot summer, sweating like a pig, walking mile after mile, he would share with me several things he noticed that I think are worth mentioning in the context of this discussion. Many of the houses to which he brought welfare checks had the following things in common in the hot summer. Not every house, but there was a strong correlation between getting a welfare check and one or more of the following…
- The man of the house was home in the middle of the day watching TV. I guess if they’ll send you a check for doing nothing, why not do nothing?
- The air conditioning was on and the windows were open. I guess if you’re not working hard to pay your electric bill, you don’t really care.
- They gambled. Many a time when Mrs. Jones was “so glad the check’s here”, it was because “I’ve been waiting for it so I can meet my friends at the boat this afternoon.”
- They smoked. Can’t afford lots of things, but can definitely afford cigarettes.
This kind of stuff is very real. It’s not everybody. I doubt it’s even the majority. But it’s real, and it destroys lives. Can you picture my grandfather, with all those mouths to feed blowing money at a casino or on cigarettes or on air conditioning (let alone A/C that was trying to cool the front yard)? No way! And my question is very simple, does giving people stuff also give them a strong work ethic, or do you have to work hard to get that? I see it in my own life. If you give it to me, I don’t value it nearly as much as if I had to work for it. Too big a safety net undermines work ethic, to say nothing of principles like the value of delayed gratification.
What say you?