Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Welfare Principles and the Welfare State

There are many good people and organizations in the world that are trying to meet the pressing needs of the poor and needy everywhere. We are grateful for this, but the Lord's way of caring for the needy is different from the world's way...He is not interested only in our immediate needs. He is concerned about our eternal progression. For this reason, the Lord's way has always included self-reliance and service to our neighbor in addition to care for the poor.

- President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, General Conference October 2011

These powerful words from President Uchtdorf's important and timely talk echo the thoughts of President Marion G. Romney from years ago:

Many programs have been set up by well-meaning individuals to aid those who are in need. However, many of these programs are designed with the shortsighted objective of “helping people,” as opposed to “helping people help themselves.” Our efforts must always be directed toward making able-bodied people self-reliant...The practice of coveting and receiving unearned benefits has now become so fixed in our society that even men of wealth, possessing the means to produce more wealth, are expecting the government to guarantee them a profit. Elections often turn on what the candidates promise to do for voters from government funds. This practice, if universally accepted and implemented in any society, will make slaves of its citizens. We cannot afford to become wards of the government, even if we have a legal right to do so. It requires too great a sacrifice of self-respect and political, temporal, and spiritual independence.

Commenting on the above riots, former prison doctor and psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple writes,

The riots are the apotheosis of the welfare state and popular culture in their British form. A population thinks (because it has often been told so by intellectuals and the political class) that it is entitled to a high standard of consumption, irrespective of its personal efforts; and therefore it regards the fact that it does not receive that high standard, by comparison with the rest of society, as a sign of injustice. It believes itself deprived (because it has often been told so by intellectuals and the political class), even though each member of it has received an education costing $80,000, toward which neither he nor—quite likely—any member of his family has made much of a contribution; indeed, he may well have lived his entire life at others’ expense, such that every mouthful of food he has ever eaten, every shirt he has ever worn, every television he has ever watched, has been provided by others. Even if he were to recognize this, he would not be grateful, for dependency does not promote gratitude. On the contrary, he would simply feel that the subventions were not sufficient to allow him to live as he would have liked.

This is quite different from the continued coddling of many who see the riot a desperate act of the poor and downtrodden. Despite the maddening psychobabble of many, actual psychologists have recognized the narcissistic tendencies of the Entitlement Generation for some time. "Many young people also display entitlement," notes psychologist Jean Twenge, "a facet of narcissism that involves believing that you deserve and are entitled to more than others...Several studies have found that narcissists lash out aggressively when they are insulted or rejected."[1] This coincides with the findings of another researcher, which concludes that the perception of low status elicits misery, leading to animosity and aggression. Some are under no illusions as to where this perception of a deserved higher status came from. "The entitlement mindset didn’t come from nowhere," writes one columnist. "It came from us. It came from a generation of adults who believed that kids should never be allowed to fail, or told the truth about their abilities, or learn that getting what you want is sometimes hard." As The Australian reports, "It may seem compassionate to give people money, but passive welfare over the long term is a disaster for the recipient's self-respect, motivation, general morale and ultimately their sanity." Thus, by all accounts, "the European model right now is a wretched failure." Drawing comparisons to the dystopian novel and film A Clockwork Orange, one writer views the riots as "[w]hat happens when you teach people that profits are theft, that inequality of outcome is injustice, and that it is a basic human right for every citizen to have "access" to all the consumer goods their eyes behold[.]"

The disgraceful attempt of many to justify or overlook the inexcusable actions of these rioters is rich with as much cognitive dissonance as sheer hypocrisy. It is the same nonsense trumpeted by the media, politicians, and public intellectuals during the riots of the 1960s. Chanting "Burn, Baby, Burn," rioters looted and set stores ablaze. These riots were characterized as "'uprisings' against poverty and white racism."[2] Instead of stealing necessary goods (the deprivation of such being the very definition of "poverty"), things such as liquor, cigarettes, and drugs were targeted instead. Dry-cleaned clothes and pawn shop items were also looted, despite the fact that these were property of black community residents. Though the militant interpretation claimed this to be a response to racism, African American residents took a largely negative view of the situation. Most arrested looters admitted nothing more than a personal desire for material gain. Small businesses, which employed a large number of blacks, were the main recipients of looting and arson. Black-owned businesses faired no better, even with signs reading "Soul Brother" or "Very, Very, Very, Very Black." The 1992 Los Angeles riot following the Rodney King incident left multiple Korean-owned, African American-owned, and Hispanic-owned businesses in ruin. This supposed protest against "racial injustice" created a kind of riot ideology.[3] In our modern context, the injustice has moved from racial to economic and social. "[M]uch of the furor is because poverty is now seen as a relative, not an absolute, condition," writes historian Victor Davis Hanson. "Per capita GDP is $47,000 in the U.S. and $35,000 in Britain. In contrast, those rioting in impoverished Syria (where per capita GDP is about $5,000) or Egypt (about $6,000) worry about going to bed hungry or being shot for expressing their views — not about wanting a new BlackBerry or a pair of Nikes. Inequality, not Tiny Tim–like poverty, is the new Western looter’s complaint." The problems not only stem from government policy, but a cultural paradigm shift in regards to morality.[4]

This is what happens when individuals leave behind the welfare principles of the gospel with the support and encouragement of their government leaders.

1. Jean M. Twenge, Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled - and More Miserable Than Ever Before (New York: Free Press, 2006), 70-71 (italics mine).

2. Jonathan J. Bean, "'Burn, Baby, Burn!': Small Business in the Urban Riots of the 1960s," The Independent Review 5:2 (Fall 2000): 165.

3. See Bean, 2000 in its entirety.

4. The following selection addresses this morality shift as well as the need for traditional values and economic freedom: Charles Murray, "Europe Syndrome," The Wall Street Journal (March 25, 2009); Jonathan Sacks, "Reversing the Decay of London Undone," The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 20, 2011); Sacks, "Markets and Morals," First Things (Aug/Sept 2000); Edward Feser, "Hayek on Tradition," Journal of Libertarian Studies 17:1 (Winter 2003).

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