Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

Has welfare failed us?

Jerry Stratton, May 23, 2008

From inside the box, it certainly looks as though welfare is failing to do its job. It’s easily argued that welfare is creating the very conditions it was meant to end. But from outside the box, I wonder if welfare’s failure isn’t really the result of its being overloaded due to other poor public policies, especially the violent and expensive drug war.

What is wrong with public assistance for people who have no jobs and need time to look for them, and people who have no jobs and aren’t likely to ever be able to get one?

We began providing welfare during the great depression and for most of its life welfare was provided generally to people who required assistance with little problem. It is only after the Great Society expansion of the sixties that the welfare system has become too expensive and we’ve been “forced” to reduce benefits and reduce the number of people to whom we provide benefits.

The Great Society’s expansion of welfare benefits came at the same time as our war on marijuana and other recreational drugs intensified. As our drug war grew, the drain on the welfare system grew also. Prohibition amplifies poverty. It siphons money out of poorer areas. Businesses that once thrived leave. Go into any poverty-stricken area, and what will you see? Faded signs from local businesses that have been forced to close. They were able to survive once, but now they’re gone. That’s what adds to the welfare rolls.

I am reminded of Lewis Carroll’s Teetotaler in Sylvie and Bruno Concluded:

“You are not a teetotaler, I think?” said our host.

“Indeed but I am!” he replied. “Nearly twice as much money is spent in England on Drink, as on any other article of food. Read this card. The stripes of different colours represent the amounts spent of various articles of food. Look at the highest three. Money spent on butter and on cheese, thirty-five millions: on bread, seventy millions: on intoxicating liquors, one hundred and thirty-six millions! If I had my way, I would close every public-house in the land! Look at that card, and read the motto. That’s where all the money goes to!”

“Have you seen the Anti-Teetotal Card?” Arthur innocently enquired.

“No, Sir, I have not!” the orator savagely replied. “What is it like?”

“Almost exactly like this one. The coloured stripes are the same. Only, instead of the words ‘Money spent on’, it has ‘Incomes derived from sale of’; and, instead of ‘That’s where all the money goes to’, its motto is ‘That’s where all the money comes from!’”

Those billions “going to” illicit drugs and being led out of the country or at least out of the above-ground economy could, like alcohol today, be brought back into the mainstream and provide local incomes and fund local businesses. Money that is today being siphoned out of the economy could once again enhance it. Nor would it be a drug economy—most of the drug money spent today is spent because of prohibition. Ending prohibition would free up billions to other markets.

Most people have used illegal drugs at least once. Police, knowing that everyone they meet could be and and probably is a criminal, treat them that way. Respect for authority falls both because the laws are unjust and because they are enforced in an unjust manner.

The evils of prohibition are more than money. We know from alcohol prohibition that prohibition causes violence, too. That violence makes normal trade more difficult. And the violence of prohibition strengthens existing gangs and creates new ones, further increasing the violence of prohibition. And as the gangs become the law in an affected area, justice becomes arbitrary. It is difficult to maintain a vibrant community in the face of prohibition violence and arbitrary justice.

Legitimate businesses can’t exist when the only justice is gang justice. Felons can’t find jobs easily; they can’t even vote. When businesses leave, when public policy cannot be affected, and when law enforcement is the enemy, independent initiative dies. Prohibition causes apathy. It doesn’t just suck money out of the system, it sucks people out of the system.

We don’t really know if public assistance is a failure, because we enacted most of it at the same time that we began ramping up the drug war and began discouraging individual reliance. If economic and political power were not being siphoned out of poverty-stricken areas, the demand on the welfare system would be smaller.

Before scrapping welfare, or before pumping more money into it to make it more useful for large amounts of people, we should try to adjust our bad laws so that large amounts of people do not want it or need it.

If we restored the black market billions to impoverished communities, there would be more local businesses and more local jobs. If we stopped siphoning tax moneys into imprisoning these communities, there would be more money for buying things in those communities. And if we stopped taking the members of these communities out of the communities and off of the voter rolls, there would be more reason for them and their families to want to take part in working society.

Welfare would no longer be burdened by people who we have made poor, and who we have made unemployable. People would once again want jobs, and want to make their own way, not only because they can but because it makes sense to them.

  1. <- Big Lizard Stomp
  2. God’s Will ->