The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published March 18, 2011, by Grand Junction Free Press.
Do people have a right to food, shelter, and other basic needs? Or do people who earn wealth have a right to use it as they see fit, to donate to charity (if they wish to do so) on a voluntary basis?
An Associated Press headline last month nicely illustrates a major problem with modern welfare programs: “Colorado bill bans welfare cards at strip clubs.” Bill 1058 pertains to “public assistance payments and food stamps” that can be accessed through ATMs. It adds strip clubs to the list of other establishments where the funds may not be withdrawn: racetracks, bingo clubs, gun shops, and liquor stores.
Apparently even the Colorado legislature grants there is no fundamental right to stuff tax dollars into the garters and panties of strippers. Yet somehow we do not find the so-called “Responsible Family and Taxpayer Stewardship Act of 2011” very reassuring. What’s to stop the same welfare recipients from cashing out down the block (or illegally selling tax-funded goods) and using the money at the same establishments?
Those who would trivialize such problems need only turn to the pages of the Los Angeles Times, where we find the following headlines and summaries from last year. “$69 million in California welfare money drawn out of state: Las Vegas tops the list with $11.8 million spent at casinos or taken from ATMs, but transactions in Hawaii, Miami, Guam and elsewhere also raise questions.” “Thousands in welfare cash tapped at California strip clubs.” “California welfare recipients withdrew $1.8 million at casino ATMs over eight months.”
When politicians hand out “free” cash, there’s no way to ensure the money is spent on basic needs. But even programs that provide goods and services, such as food or health care, allow the recipients to redirect their own dollars to wasteful spending. How often do people use food stamps for food and spend their own cash on cigarettes and booze?
The bureaucrats who distribute welfare benefits cannot possibly know whether the recipients use the benefits prudently or wastefully. Even outright fraud is difficult to detect. Moreover, because political programs operate by formulas and reams of rules, bureaucrats usually couldn’t do anything about wasteful spending anyway. And, because the bureaucrats spend other people’s money, they have little incentive to provide accountability for the resources.
Contrast forced welfare with voluntary charity. Somebody who voluntarily contributes to a cause has a strong incentive to make sure the money achieves its purpose. Voluntary charity is much more flexible, ranging from helping out a family member or neighbor to funding a major nonprofit. Voluntary charities are diverse, meeting a variety of needs through different approaches. Thus, the failure of one charity will have little impact on voluntary giving as a whole.
Voluntary charities are better able to ensure recipients actually benefit from the donations, and they have an interest in improving recipients’ condition. A local charity organizer is more likely to know whether a recipient is trying hard to get back on his feet or squandering the resources on booze and strip clubs.
A local food bank is more likely to provide economical, healthy foods, as opposed to the high-sugar processed foods often obtained with food stamps. And voluntary charities are more likely to function well, as opposed to Colorado’s failed computers that caused years of welfare backlogs.
If a charity performs poorly, donors can quickly redirect their resources to more effective organizations. By contrast, the contributers to tax-funded welfare have little ability or incentive to provide any oversight for those programs.
The greatest harm of forced welfare programs is not the wasted resources, but the cultural decay they foster. When people donate voluntarily to charity, they share a sense of goodwill with the recipients and hold a sincere desire to help them achieve a better life. Forced welfare more often causes animosity and anger.
The recipients of voluntary charity are more likely to realize that the help comes with the expectation of becoming responsibly self-sufficient. Forced welfare fosters the notion that recipients somehow deserve the help simply by virtue of failing to earn a living. Recipients with this attitude are more likely to squander the resources, live irresponsible lifestyles, and grow perpetually dependent on government handouts.
Those who advocate forced welfare confuse a need with a right, ignoring the fact that a “right” to material assistance implies the ability to force somebody else to produce those resources. Welfare benefits do not come from some magical pot of gold in the sky; they must be paid by individual producers.
People have the right to use the product of their labor as they deem best. A free society is a wealthy society in which the successful majority, freed from onerous tax burdens, gladly helps those truly in need. Voluntary charity respects the rights of the donors while best ensuring the well-being of the recipients.
Evil Red Scandi commented March 25, 2011 at 3:43 PM
Well, since many of these girls swear they are paying their way through college, it could just be viewed as another government educational fund.
For decades we’ve had the G.I. Bill; now apparently we have the G-String Bill.
Anonymous commented March 27, 2011 at 9:15 AM
Check out this new study.
The chart is quite revealing. A one-parent family of three making $14,500 a year (minimum wage) has more disposable income than a family making $60,000 a year.