Welfare is immoral

Every man must bear his own privations rather than take what belongs to another.

—Cicero. On Duties, 44 BC.

It is immoral for the welfare recipient to take what he has not earned and therefore what does not belong to him. This is because the money that pays for welfare is extracted by coercion. Under the natural law, every person is entitled to the fruit of his labor and to dispose of it as he sees fit. It is his right to spend money on a charity, or to withhold it to spend on himself, or to invest it. When coercive power is used to redistribute wealth, it is a breach of natural rights. It is the modern equivalent of raiders on horseback riding into an agricultural valley and using coercion to take from the farmers trying to support their own families. The mere fact that a majority in a democracy votes for such iniquity does not alter its nature. When socialist politicians stand up and talk about ‘the rich paying their fair share’, they are cloaking the evil with false morality. This was explained by Herbert Spencer:

Can any individual, whose wickedness or improvidence has brought him to want, claim relief of his fellow-men as an act of justice? … Certainly not. Injustice implies a positive act of oppression, and no man or men can be charged with it, when merely maintaining a negative position … . They may seek their commiseration; they may hope for their assistance; but they cannot take their stand upon the ground of justice. (On The Proper Sphere of Government, 1842-1843.)

Hard-working parents who bestow a good education and ethics of decency on their children are not guilty of a crime for which they must atone by giving over their money. There is no injustice in owning property, in working hard, in being morally upright, in taking care of your health, in not smoking, not drinking, not gambling, or in utilizing the intelligence with which you have been endowed. Injustice comes only from the violation of the rights of others.

Welfare encourages behavior that causes poverty

Welfare … distributed with little or no consideration of their effects on behavior, encouraged illegitimacy, facilitated the breakdown of families, and replaced incentives favoring work and self-reliance with perverse encouragement for idleness and cheating.

—Margaret Thatcher. The Downing Street Years, 1993.

Welfare addresses the symptoms of errant behavior while exacerbating the cause. Able-bodied poor people are poor because of the way they behave, not because they lack money. It may be because they oversleep, are addicted to drugs, are insolent, are indolent, or all of these. Welfare does not address these causes of poverty; rather, it makes matters worse by insulating the poor from the negative consequences of their vices and so removing any incentive to mend their ways.

In weighing up whether it is more equitable to force the lazy to work or to force the hardworking to hand over part of their income for their support, it is easy to see that forcing the lazy to work is much more in accordance with the natural law. However, for the most part it is not necessary to force people to do anything. Rather, the natural order, the human ecosystem, is distorted by welfare with disastrous results. Thus, the petulant teenager who screams, “I hate you, I hate you” and flounces out of the house should, through lack of food, lack of lodging, and anti-vagrancy laws, be forced to return. She will then realize that the only way she can achieve independence is by getting a job and working hard. If on the other hand the state offers her a free apartment and a dole check, and all she has to do to obtain these bounties is to become a single mother, then that is naturally what she will do. Likewise the disaffected employee who shows up late to work, scowls and swears at his manager, and after being sacked is given welfare, will have little incentive to mend his ways. If there is no welfare available, it will take less than a week for hunger to change his attitude. The next time he has a job he will remember the connection between his ability to eat and live indoors and providing satisfactory service.

Welfare undermines the spiritual health of the recipient

The sense of being self-reliant, of playing a role within the family, of owning one’s own property, of paying one’s way, are all part of the spiritual ballast which maintains responsible citizenship, and provides the solid foundation from which people look around to see what more they might do, for others and for themselves. That is what we mean by a moral society; not a society where the state is responsible for everything.

—Margaret Thatcher. Speech to the Zurich Economic Society, March 14, 1977.

Self-reliance and independence are vital human needs, and even where they do not exist, they are essential aspirations. The rebelliousness and truculence of teenagers is caused partly by hormones, but mainly by the desire to get out in the world and be their own person. Nothing is more crushing, nothing is more dispiriting, than being dependent, being captive, being without control of your own destiny. It is for this reason that East Germans were prepared to brave the machine guns as they fled across the Iron Curtain. They were not risking their lives to access West Germany’s welfare system; rather, they were yearning to be free, to feel what it is like to be hungry or well-fed, poor or wealthy, solely as a result of what they did. They wanted to escape being treated like farm animals that know neither hunger, hardship, success, or failure, except as imposed by the state. We humans are independent and dignified creatures, as Herbert Spencer observed:

All legislation which assists the people in the satisfaction of their natural wants—which provides a fund for their maintenance in illness and old age, educates their children, takes care of their religious instruction, looks after their bodily health, or in any other way does for them what they may be fairly expected to do for themselves, arises from a radically wrong understanding of human existence. It wholly neglects the condition of man’s earthly being, and altogether loses sight of one of the great and universal laws of creation. (On The Proper Sphere of Government, 1842-1843.)

Welfare attracts fraud

Welfare befuddles the feeble-minded in their understanding of reality. Having tasted the fruits of no labor, welfare recipients are rendered unable to see any need to go to the effort and discomfort of working for money. They naturally decide to follow the rich vein further—by fraud. Not content with one welfare check, they create false identities and collect several, or misrepresent their circumstances in order to collect even more of the easy money.

They are unable to morally delineate between ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ welfare because taking money which you did not earn is immoral under the natural law and applies equally to both. All efforts to deter welfare fraud have proved futile. The very act of giving something unearned fatally undermines the morality of the recipients so they have no compunction in doing whatever it takes to cheat the system. In some ethnic communities it is de rigueur for a husband to pretend to divorce his wife so she can claim single mother benefits.

Nor is it only welfare recipients that commit the fraud. Money for nothing is a beacon for entrepreneurial criminals as well. The following Los Angeles Times article illustrates the problem:

L.A.’s skid row has become a magnet for fraud schemes that use the area’s homeless population to rip off the federal government, authorities said this week as they launched a crackdown on the activities. In just the last few months, state and federal investigators have broken up two food stamp scams, one of which involved a merchant who allegedly gave homeless people 50 cents on the dollar for their stamps, then charged the entire value—$6 million—to the government.

In November, officials filed charges against the owner of a MacArthur Park-area clinic for allegedly rounding up homeless people on skid row with Medi-Cal or Medicare cards and giving them a battery of medical tests charged to government programs. Authorities allege the bogus tests cost taxpayers at least $1.6 million and perhaps much more.

Also, a hospital in South Los Angeles is under investigation to determine whether it recruited homeless people for short stays at federal expense, according to law enforcement sources … . Police worry that these latest scams are helping fuel skid row’s drug trade by allowing homeless people to get cash to buy drugs. “We have taxpayer money meant for food being converted to cash that goes to buy drugs from dealers and gang members,” said LAPD Capt. Andrew Smith, who oversees policing on skid row.

Smith and other LAPD officials said there is also evidence that some drug dealers themselves are using food stamps as a form of currency. In May, officers arrested eight people for allegedly running a crack cocaine ring in skid row. They found numerous food stamp debit cards in the hotel room where the ring operated. Detectives concluded the suspects were holding the cards as collateral for drug purchases. “Skid Row Scams Cost Taxpayers Millions,” Los Angeles Times, December 15, 2006.

Welfare rots the moral fabric of society

All such programs put some people in a position to decide what is good for other people. The effect is to instill in the one group a feeling of almost God-like power: in the other, a feeling of childlike dependence. The capacity of the beneficiaries for independence, for making their own decisions, atrophies through disuse. In addition to the waste of money, in addition to the failure to achieve the intended objectives, the end result is to rot the moral fabric that holds a decent society together.

—Milton Friedman. Free to Choose, 1980.

Socialists like to talk about their programs ‘fostering a sense of community.’ This is wishful thinking, because nothing destroys a community more thoroughly than socialism. Anyone who doubts this should visit a public housing estate, where people keep their doors closed even as their neighbors are being raped or murdered outside. The residents give the police no assistance and instead refer to this civic duty as ‘snitching.’ Gangs of hoodlums roam about smashing windows, applying graffiti, operating crack houses, and terrorizing the young, elderly, infirm, and women and children. By contrast, in a true community, where decent people live in houses bought with their own money, a scream in the night brings every able-bodied male rushing into the street to investigate. When a burglary occurs, the police are given the utmost assistance. This was understood by Wilhelm Humboldt who wrote, “In proportion as each individual relies upon the helpful vigilance of the State, he learns to abandon to its responsibility the fate and wellbeing of his fellow-citizens. But the inevitable tendency of such abandonment is to deaden the living force of sympathy, and to render the natural impulse to mutual assistance inactive.” (The Sphere and Duties of Government, 1972.)

Starvation and hardship are good

A savage has eaten his fill. He does not foresee that he will be hungry tomorrow. Why should he work today? As far as the present is concerned, work represents pain; it requires no foresight to realize that. Hence, he remains idle. But the day flits by, another follows, and with it comes hunger. Under this spur he must go to work. This is a lesson that, often repeated, cannot fail to develop the virtue of foresight. Little by little idleness is seen for what it is. It is deplored; the young are admonished against it. Industriousness is backed by the authority of public opinion. But for experience to become a real teacher and to fulfil its mission in the world, developing foresight, revealing the true nature of cause and effect, encouraging good habits and curbing bad ones—in a word, for it to become a fit instrument of progress and moral improvement—the law of responsibility must function. The results of bad actions must be brought home, and, let us admit it frankly, evil must, for the moment, exact its severe penalty.

—Frédéric Bastiat. Economic Harmonies, 1850.

The human mind is a wandering thing. It is brought to recognize reality in the same way the cow is brought out from under the tree—by hunger. People clean toilets, work double shifts, and study in their spare time to put hunger and discomfort behind them. Welfare and public housing, which makes them safe from hunger and cold, removes their motivation and saps their industriousness.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove