What Welfare Encourages

In Atlas Shrugged, Dagny Taggart hears the story of a man who lived through a localized scheme of pure collectivism, in which the doctrine, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” was the rule. The man tells her:

It didn’t take us long to see how it all worked out. Any man who tried to play straight, had to refuse himself everything. He lost his taste for any pleasure… He felt ashamed of every mouthful of food he swallowed, wondering whose weary nights of overtime had paid for it, knowing that his food was not his by right, miserably wishing to be cheated rather than to cheat… [H]e couldn’t marry or bring children into the world, when he could plan nothing, promise nothing, count on nothing. But the shiftless and the irresponsible had a field day of it. They bred babies… they got more sickness than any doctor could disprove, they ruined their clothing, their furniture, their homes — what the hell, “the family” was paying for it! They found more ways of getting in “need” than the rest of us could ever imagine — they developed a special skill for it, which was the only ability they showed. (pages 619-20)

Or, in economic terms, “You get more of what you subsidize.”

We do not live under pure collectivism; we live under a welfare state, in which a minority of our income is forcibly redistributed to others. But, to the extent that we live under the same principle, do we see the same effects? As I’ve suggested, we do indeed.