Howard Rich's Blog

June 16, 2009

The Restoration of Dependency

By Howard Rich

Multi-billion dollar bailouts. A new national energy tax. The return of socialized medicine.

Almost every day we’re seeing another big government offensive taking direct aim at the core ideals on which our nation was founded – and upon which rests our essential strength.

Yet of all the counter-capitalist pillars included in President Barack Obama’s new “Era of Obscenely Big Government,” the deliberate undoing of welfare reform is receiving a surprisingly small amount of ink.

Perhaps that’s because our sympathetic (if not sycophantic) mainstream media doesn’t want to throw a monkey wrench into the tired old “we’ve got to do something” refrain that has already seen $13 trillion spent, lent or pledged on “economic recovery” in the last year alone.

Or perhaps it’s because this “stealth’ dismantling of welfare reform doesn’t fit neatly within the “Post hoc, ergo propter hoc” framework often used to justify so many of Obama’s policies.

After all, you can’t pin an “after Bush, therefore because of Bush” tail on this issue – which has its roots in the administration of President Bill Clinton.

Passed in 1996, the bipartisan “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act” represented a fundamental shift in the way our nation approached welfare. Rather than incentivizing states to expand their welfare rolls, the new law sent money in block grants which offered incentives for taking people off of welfare – and encouraging them to find jobs.

Not surprisingly, when the federal government stopped rewarding the perpetuation of poverty, it stopped seeing so much of it.

Contrary to the doom and gloom, “death in the streets” pronouncements of government bureaucrats chained to the failed “War on Poverty” approach, the results of welfare reform (in conjunction with a reduction in capital gains taxes and other economy-empowering reforms) were nothing short of phenomenal.

Poverty rates plunged, welfare rolls were cut in half, unemployment fell and the government recorded its first annual surpluses in decades.

At the heart of this free enterprise success story was the fact that personal responsibility, not government dependency, had been incentivized – a fairly self-evident truth that nonetheless had been ignored for decades by Washington politicians.

“The advocates of (the old system) had no inkling that these good-hearted strategies would lead to enduring cycles of poverty and family disintegration that threatened to consume entire generations,” writes Dr. Hunter Baker, a professor at Houston Baptist University. “Wishing for good outcomes resulted in disaster. It was only when a more tough-minded view took hold (the idea that it is reasonable to expect productivity and initiative out of healthy, working age persons) that many managed to escape mere subsistence.”1

Sadly, Obama’s plans represent a nothing short of a complete U-turn back to the days of dependency and subsistence. In fact, one of the little-publicized components of the massive “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” is the unfortunate “reinvestment” it makes in poverty and dependency.

The “bounty system” of paying cash-strapped states to expand their welfare rolls is back, only this time with an even higher incentive – a whopping $4 to $1 cash bonus for every new family that state bureaucrats are able to hook up to the government dole.

“The original goal of helping families move to employment and self-sufficiency and off long-term dependence on government assistance has instead been replaced with the perverse incentive of adding more families to the welfare rolls,” a recent report from the Heritage Foundation states.2

This approach clearly benefits no one – well, except for government bureaucrats and Obama’s friends at ACORN, who rely on the perpetuation of poverty and dependence to keep their various scams up and running.

The sad, unavoidable reality is that the more one examines Obama’s position on welfare, the more obvious it becomes that his goal is not to help people who are poor, but rather to keep them dependent on his government to provide for their every need.

(1)http://www.acton.org/commentary/527_tyranny_of_the_obvious.php

(2)http://www.heritage.org/research/welfare/wm2287.cfm

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