Sell­ing de­pen­dency to U.S. vot­ers

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Those who re­gard gov­ern­ment “en­ti­tle­ment” pro­grams as sacro­sanct, and re­gard those who want to cut them back as cal­loused or cruel, pic­ture a world very dif­fer­ent from the world of re­al­ity.

To lis­ten to some of the de­fend­ers of en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams, which are at the heart of the present fi­nan­cial cri­sis, you might think that any­thing the gov­ern­ment fails to pro­vide is some­thing that peo­ple will be de­prived of.

In other words, if you cut spend­ing on school lunches, chil­dren will go hun­gry. If you fail to sub­si­dize hous­ing, peo­ple will be home­less. If you fail to sub­si­dize pre­scrip­tion drugs, old peo­ple will have to eat dog food in or­der to be able to af­ford their meds.

This is the vi­sion pro­moted by many politi­cians and much of the me­dia. But, in the world of re­al­ity, it is not even true for most peo­ple who are liv­ing be­low the of­fi­cial poverty line.

Most Amer­i­cans liv­ing be­low the of­fi­cial poverty line own a car or truck, and gov­ern­ment en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams sel­dom pro­vide cars and trucks. Most peo­ple liv­ing be­low the of­fi­cial poverty line also have air con­di­tion­ing, color tele­vi­sion and a mi­crowave oven, and these too are not usu­ally handed out by gov­ern­ment en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams.

Cell phones and other elec­tronic de­vices are by no means un­heard of in low-in­come neigh­bor­hoods, where chil­dren would sup­pos­edly go hun­gry if there were no school lunch pro­grams. In re­al­ity, low-in­come peo­ple are over­weight even more of­ten than other Amer­i­cans.

As for hous­ing and home­less­ness, hous­ing prices are higher and home­less­ness a big­ger prob­lem in places where there has been mas­sive gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion, such as lib­eral bas­tions like New York City and San Fran­cisco.

As for the el­derly, 80 per­cent are home­own­ers. whose monthly hous­ing costs are less than $400, in­clud­ing prop­erty taxes, util­i­ties, and main­te­nance.

The des­per­ately poor el­derly con­jured up in po­lit­i­cal and me­dia rhetoric are, in the world of re­al­ity, the wealth­i­est seg­ment of the Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion.

The av­er­age wealth of older house­holds is nearly three times the wealth of house­holds headed by peo­ple in the 35 to 44-year-old bracket, and more than 15 times the wealth of house­holds headed by some­one un­der 35 years of age.

If the wealth­i­est seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion can­not pay their own med­i­cal bills, who can?

The coun­try as a whole is not any richer be­cause the gov­ern­ment pays our med­i­cal bills, with money that it takes from us.

What about the truly poor, in what­ever age brack­ets? First of all, even in low-in­come and high-crime neigh­bor­hoods, peo­ple are not steal­ing bread to feed their chil­dren. The frac­tion of the peo­ple in such neigh­bor­hoods who com­mit most of the crimes are far more likely to steal lux­ury prod­ucts that they

The goal is . . . to cre­ate de­pen­dency, be­cause de­pen­dency trans­lates into votes for politi­cians who play Santa Claus.

can ei­ther use or sell to get money to sup­port their par­a­sitic life­style.

As for the rest of the poor, Pro­fes­sor Wal­ter Wil­liams of Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity long ago showed that you could give the poor enough money to lift them all above the of­fi­cial poverty line for a frac­tion of what it costs to sup­port a mas­sive wel­fare state bu­reau­cracy.

We don’t need to send the coun­try into bank­ruptcy, in the name of the poor, by spend­ing tril­lions of dol­lars on peo­ple who are not poor, and who could take care of them­selves. The poor have been used as hu­man shields be­hind which the ex­pand­ing wel­fare state can ad­vance.

The goal is not to keep the poor from starv­ing but to cre­ate de­pen­dency, be­cause de­pen­dency trans­lates into votes for politi­cians who play Santa Claus. We have all heard the old say­ing about how giv­ing a man a fish feeds him for a day, while teach­ing him to fish feeds him for a life­time. In­de­pen­dence makes for a health­ier so­ci­ety, but de­pen­dency is what gets votes for politi­cians.

For politi­cians, giv­ing a man a fish ev­ery day of his life is the way to keep get­ting his vote. “En­ti­tle­ment” is just a fancy word for de­pen­dency.

As for the scary sto­ries politi­cians tell, in or­der to keep the en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams go­ing, as long as we keep buy­ing it, they will keep sell­ing it.

Thomas Sow­ell is a se­nior fel­low at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion, Stan­ford Univer­sity.

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