“And I say, ‘Zangief you are badguy, but this does not mean you are bad guy‘.” – Zangief, Wreck it Ralph
Headlines are all over the place over the past week that the older of the alleged Boston Bombers, Tamerlain Tsarnaev, was receiving welfare benefits (one such story here). This raises the rather unfortunate specter that we were funding a terror attack when we went to work to pay for those benefits. Money is fungible. If these guys received benefits from the state and spent money on building a bomb, then the state funded, in some small part, the bombing of its own people. Naturally it was unwitting, the state has done no “wrong” in the sense of participation; but the “ick” for most people will be that their hard work, translated into paychecks and then taxes, was funneled to a terrorist to kill Americans.
Naturally there will be shock and horror amongst welfare opponents (I am one such person), but I think these are really just talking points now. The population of terrorists living in America is rather small, so one can be forgiven for living with some notion that no terrorists were receiving support via our welfare system. But what about other bad guys? Are there thieves, rapists, murderers, and child-abusers drawing welfare benefits? You bet there are. I don’t have to “know” this to know it. The probability that nobody receiving government assistance falls into one of those categories is absurdly low. (The value of 1-(1-p)^n is effectively one even for p near zero when n is in the tens of millions.)
So what does this mean? It means that when you go to work today part of your paycheck will be funneled to people who will use it to take care of their basic human needs while they are otherwise committing crimes against their fellow man.
We’ve touched on this subject in the past with “The Pope Almost Gets It; Competing Social Structures and the Tip of the Iceberg.” In the old days we managed the welfare of the needy through a hierarchy of localized structures. First their was family. If family failed then there was church or neighbors or some local social network that banded together to help. As a last line there would be charitable organizations that held the doors open for those who had no remaining options from the first two.
This approach to caring for the needy had three distinct advantages over the modern, state-run welfare system. The first is principled (and actually gives rise to the others): it was based in freedom. People providing care got to choose whether they would provide care. They were not forced. Sure, they probably faced all manner of social stigma if they failed (“I can’t believe you won’t care for your own mother!”) but they still had freedom. This is not so in the current regime. We are not free to refuse to provide support for murderers and thieves, rapists and child abusers. We’d have our assets seized and possibly land in jail for tax evasion.
The next benefit is that of local knowledge regarding actual need (or actual ability). For much the same reason that capitalism outlasted communism (local decision making) the former social structures had much better knowledge regarding the actual levels of need and ability to contribute of those asking for help. An able-bodied man could hardly expect a handout; he’d be told to get a job. Likewise, a person living in a nice house and driving a nice car could not expect to receive further assistance; he clearly is not in need. It is very difficult for a bureaucracy to make such determinations (particularly if they have no incentive to do so).
Finally, because of the freedom of interaction and greater local knowledge, the old systems provided a strong incentive for behavior modification. If the person providing benefits has intimate knowledge of the behaviors and lifestyle of the recipient, and has the choice to stop providing benefits, the recipient of benefits must modify his bad behaviors for fear of being cut off. If thieves and murders are found out they can rest assured that the won’t get any more help. For that matter, loud-mouths and rude fellows can also rest assured that they won’t get any more help.
Alas, these highly effective systems have been replaced with the socialist dream. That system has now funded terrorism, along with the rest.
I should point out here, to be fair, that as one who sees and end to all state-funded benefits as a good thing (Golden Rule & all – people must be free in their participation) I have to ask legitimate questions about how Americans and the Church would respond if we were thrown back into a free mode of operation here. Have we grown so accustomed to “that’s the government’s problem” that we wouldn’t know how to respond? Have we grown so accustomed to “I have to get ‘mine'” that we wouldn’t know how to give benevolently, sacrificially, to help those in need? I like to think the best in these situations, but I certainly think there would be some growing pains at the very least.