Before and After Welfare Handouts


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Before and After Welfare Handouts

USA – -( Before the massive growth of our welfare state, private charity was the sole option for an individual or family facing insurmountable financial difficulties or other challenges. How do we know that?

There is no history of Americans dying on the streets because they could not find food or basic medical assistance. Respecting the biblical commandment to honor thy father and mother, children took care of their elderly or infirm parents. Family members and the local church also helped those who had fallen on hard times.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, charities started playing a major role. In 1887, religious leaders founded the Charity Organization Society, which became the first United Way organization. In 1904, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America started helping at-risk youths reach their full potential. In 1913, the American Cancer Society, dedicated to curing and eliminating cancer, was formed. With their millions of dollars, industrial giants such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller created our nation's first philanthropic organizations.

Generosity has always been a part of the American genome.

Alexis de Tocqueville, a French civil servant, made a nine-month visit to our country in 1831 and 1832, ostensibly to study our prisons. Instead, his visit resulted in his writing “Democracy in America,” one of the most influential books about our nation. Tocqueville didn't use the term “philanthropy,” but he wrote extensively about how Americans love to form all kinds of nongovernmental associations to help one another. These associations include professional, social, civic and other volunteer organizations seeking to serve the public good and improve the quality of human lives.

The bottom line is that we Americans are the most generous people in the world, according to the new Almanac of American Philanthropy — something we should be proud of.

Before the welfare state, charity embodied both a sense of gratitude on the behalf of the recipient and magnanimity on the behalves of donors. There was a sense of civility by the recipients. They did not feel that they were owed, were entitled to or had a right to the largesse of the donor. Recipients probably felt that if they weren't civil and didn't express their gratitude, more assistance wouldn't be forthcoming. In other words, they were reluctant to bite the hand that helped them. With churches and other private agencies helping, people were much likelier to help themselves and less likely to engage in self-destructive behavior. Part of the message of charitable groups was: “We'll help you if you help yourself.”

Enter the federal government. Civility and gratitude toward one's benefactors are no longer required in the welfare state. In fact, one can be arrogant and hostile toward the “donors” (taxpayers), as well as the civil servants who dish out the benefits. The handouts that recipients get are no longer called charity; they're called entitlements — as if what is received were earned.

There is virtually no material poverty in the U.S. Eighty percent of households the Census Bureau labels as poor have air conditioning; nearly three-quarters have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two or more. Two-thirds have cable or satellite TV. Half have at least one computer. Forty-two percent own their homes. What we have in our nation is not material poverty but dependency and poverty of the spirit, with people making unwise choices and leading pathological lives, aided and abetted by the welfare state. Part of this pathological lifestyle is reflected in family structure. According to the 1938 Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, that year 11 percent of black children and 3 percent of white children were born to unwed mothers. Today it's respectively 75 percent and 30 percent.

There are very little guts in the political arena to address the downside of the welfare state. To do so risks a politician's being labeled as racist, sexist, uncaring and insensitive. That means today's dependency is likely to become permanent.

Walter E. Williams
Walter E. Williams

About Walter E.Williams

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. Williams is also the author of several books. Among these are The State Against Blacks, later made into a television documentary, America: A Minority Viewpoint, All It Takes Is Guts, South Africa's War Against Capitalism, More Liberty Means Less Government, Liberty Versus The Tyranny of Socialism, and recently his autobiography, Up From The Projects.

  • 15 thoughts on “Before and After Welfare Handouts

    1. Early Eighties, I was in my early twenties…

      There was a guy that worked in the same High Rise that I did only he worked for a contractor.

      I later found out that it was one of two part time jobs that he had, both of them “paid under the table.” Neither the employee or the employers paid the taxes and since he showed no income, he filed for every form of welfare that he could qualify for.

      When I discovered this, I must have looked shocked and he was genuinely puzzled.

      In his words, “The man” is standing there with his hand out with money in it. You gonna walk away ??

      That was my first experience with the, not so much, “you owe me” but a “you’d be a fool not to take it” outlook.

    2. So, how do we get out of this mess? My proposal is this: Give tax-payers a tax credit (not merely a deduction) for charitable contributions. Theoretically, if I pay $1 in tax to government which will give $1 in welfare, why not cut-out the middle-man? Instead, I could give $1 to the Salvation Army and take a $1 tax credit. If I thought some other organization – Catholic Charities or whatever – might do a better job with my $1 then I’d give my contribution to them next year.

      I don’t suppose that such a shift could be done over-night. It would be more sensible to do it gradually. E.g., a $1 charitable contribution would result in a 10 cent tax credit + 90 cent deduction in the first year; 20 cents credit + 80 cents deduction in the second year, and so forth up to an 80 or 90 cent credit maximum. Cap the credit at $1,000 in the first year; $2,000 in the second year, and so forth. At such point as Congress and State legislatures deemed that the needs for charity have been substantially fulfilled, caps would be stabilized (e.g., 70% in tax-credit up to a maximum of $7,000/year). Charity would be shifted from a public-sector function to a private function. Americans would be only too eager to make their own decisions as to which charities were worthy of their support vs. leaving these decisions to politicians. Even so, the decision to support the poor would still be made politically – a majority would decide which politicians would decide how much of the GDP needed to be directed to charity (vs. spent on military, police, courts and other government functions).

    3. There was plenty of welfare during the Depression. Commodities were given out across the nation to the poor and unemployed.

      As for dying in the streets from lack of medical care. Everyone died from lack of medical care. Medical care was not that advanced or as expensive as it is now.

      1. Untrue. Read “Hard Times” by Studs Terckle: The federal government paid growers and farmers to burn, bury or otherwise ruin commodities(crops and livestock) to keep prices from falling.

    4. There have been attempts by companies and businesses to help the needy. They have in many instances stopped trying. The reason the Government. They are jealous of their control over the poor. A store tries to give day old bread and the Health Department threatens to close them down. A church tries to give the needy a place to sleep and the Government comes in with all sorts of regulations that prevent them giving help.
      As long as the liberal progressives run the Government there will be no Common Sense.

    5. Another rule that is circulating through the states is the one that deals with the fact if you are able bodied you must work prior to receiving your benefits. That just passed in Tennessee and it should be in all states. Replacing welfare money with money you actually earn. What a novel idea, I have done that since I have been about 12 yrs old. No welfare for this guy.

    6. This is a very valid and important assessment of the situation. It is ONE side fo the story.

      I amjus told enough to have had relatives who endured the Great Depression, and have heard many stories, and also read a lot on my own, about how tings went down in those days. Much has been written, from various perspectives, of tha ttime, and the individuals who survived.. or didn’t.
      One thing is quite clear, and points directly to the OTHER side of Mr.Block’s observations. I in no way wish to challenge his points. valid, all of them.

      The thing that stands out from that time period, and that points out a major difference in place today, is this: during the Depression, there were few if any government rules, regulations, etc, that stood as barriers to one’s simply wandering about asking of anything needed doing that the hungry one could do. My Grandmother talked about sometimes putting the very last bit of food in the house in front of a “visitor” who had none. Their small property (seems like maybe a couple of acres) was on th edge of town, just past where the railroad line made a turn and thus the trains slowed enough for the ‘boes to be able to jump off before the dicks could get them further into town. Most of these “visitors” had not had a decent meal in days, been riding the rods to get to somewhere to find something to do to scratch together a few nickels. Grandma remembers NOT ONE of these men ever failed to look about the place and find SOMETHING to do to help themout. Mend a bit of fence, hoe in the vegetable patch, buck some stovewood for the cookstove, clean up somewhere… these men were resptctful nd grateful, never made any snide remarks or showed disrespect as they joined the family to bow and ask God’s blessing, return thanks to Him for His daliy provision.. and ask for tomorrow’s as well. Even though these complete strangers were invited into the family home, and sat at the same table as the rest of the family, and had full access to everything there, not once was anything ever taken or damaged. Sometimes there might be an extended project that could use a spare hand for a few days, and they’d be paid to do that. Not much, but a few dollars and all found was more than they’d had riding the rods out from Texas or wherever.

      Contrast that to today. Before anyone could even pick up a hoe to work the vegetable patch, he’d ahve to hav a city business licence, and if went beyond howeing or weeding for a while, he’d have to have a contractor’s license with the state, which requires a certified appprentice and/or formal training for a certain period of time before he could ever work dor directly for anyone on their property. To touch an electrical wire or pipe, he’d have to have the journey,an’s ticket and contractor’s license, register as a tradesman with the state, and have a business license for any city he might want to work within.

      When I was in high school I worked as a house painter. I contracted with a handshake to do the work, for an agreed upon price, ride my bike over to the client’s home, do the work, ride back home, collect in case for what I’d done each week. I was, in today’s legalese, a “painting contractor”. I never lacked for work, and got many referrals.

      Today, to toss some brushes and rollers and dropcloths into my truck and drive to your house to do the same, I’d have to have a state contractor’s license, be insured, bonded, have a registered fixed place of business, register with the state Department of Revenue, file quarterly or annual reports, pay business taxes, report each client’s pay on federal forms, have a bank account in the business’ name, which name would also have to be registered with the state….. the alternative eing to work’ “cash under the table” no records, putting both my client and myself at risk of civil and possibly crininal prosecution for “operating without a license or insurance” (“putting the public at risk of harm”)

      So the state, by creating all the handout programmes on the one hand, and placing insurmountable obstacles in front of anyone wanting to make work for themselves (training, certification, insuranc,e registratioin, licensing, bonding, employee taxes, incredible accounting burdens, )and that’s just wo work for myself in serving others. Have a buddy jump in with me? The hoops for having an employee are even more insane and costly). And I never got near the exponentially more insane obstacles imposed by trade unions and government agencies once THEY get going).

      My strong conviction is that, were government to GET OUT OF THE WAY and remove all the burdens and roadblocks to self-employment, folks who now are left with taking the handouts or starving, AND the government moneys now stolen at gunpoint would stop flowing…. which would just about match all the government payouts we see today. It would be a wash. The biggest differene, and the REASON it will never happen any time soon, is that millions of government workers would now be unemployed, as there would no longer be any function by whcih to justify their existence. (not to mention, no longer any excuse to waste our money).

      But such are the consequences of “government as god”.

    7. Way back I remember watching a news show that interviewed a guy who was asking folks or spare change outside Grand Central or some such in NYC. This guy was casually well dressed and had a story about needing money for the train. He revealed to the interviewer that he was making around $350 a day, and when he got off “work” he would drive home to NJ in his Cadillac.

      In another development I heard of yesterday on a CBC program, it seems the Canadians are soon to have a debate as to whether housing is a “human right”. As with a lot of current social ills and missteps, once something such as that gets going in Canada, it will trickle down to the lower 48.

    8. Great post Mr. Williams. Sadly, that dependicy is being cultivated from a young age. No matter the economic status, race and even faith.
      As Americans we have to keep instilling in the next generation a sense of pride to work hard and EARN for necessities and desires. From the Nation down to the local community we should never pass up the opportunity to help each other. One way of helping one another is by letting dependent/lazy people know it is their own responsibility to meet their own needs, and then ask for TEMPORARY assistance when needed.

    9. I remember one panhandler in the Austin, TX area – she moved from corner to corner even though she was 8 months pregnant continuously for around 3 years. Don’t know what kind of car she drove although she must have had one, since most of the places she panhandled were distant from bus routes. As for overall welfare spending – since LBJ established his “Great Society” programs, the total we’ve spent on welfare is pretty close to the current national debt. And we’re continuing to spend to the tune of over a trillion dollars a year. Time to cut our losses in the so-called “war on poverty” and severely curtail actual welfare spending.

    10. Kids on welfare from the ‘inner city’ are certainly ‘street smart’. When asked what they’d do If ‘danger stranger’ (pictured) approaches them they usually answer “I’ll stab the MF’er!”

    11. I do realize there are too many people ,
      out of work & just as many homeless !
      My problem is a lot of the people you see,
      asking for money ,Do this for a living .
      Making more than I do every month .
      I’ve seen guy’s walk 2/3 blocks away
      from their corner change & get into an
      almost new or new car/truck . I keep ,
      coupons for free burgers etc in my car.
      If I think their for real I give 1 to them.
      If they thank me great But I remember
      the ones that get pissy those are the Fakes .
      No COUPONS for them again !
      My Mom Needed Help when I was Young.
      She Got Job training and ended up working
      for the state till retirement. That’s the way to
      Use the help given, Not like a lot of these FREE LOADERS !

      1. “She Got Job training and ended up working
        for the state”

        I have never seen any government employee that was not a free loader.

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