Welfare Breeds Animosity (2010 Aug)

by Barry A. Liebling

Here is a story about welfare that you might find irritating. Recently the Los Angeles Times reported that for the last eight months a number of welfare recipients have used their California State-issued debit cards to obtain cash at casinos.

The news item quickly captured national attention. Television, radio, print, and internet media organizations ran the story – partly because it is newsworthy, and partly because they knew it would certainly elicit strong emotional responses from the audience.

According to the Los Angeles Times Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger responded quickly and demanded that the misbehavior on the part of welfare recipients stop immediately. He issued an executive order to make it impossible for them to use their debit cards at casinos. Furthermore, he insisted that people on welfare promise to use their cash entitlement only to “meet the basic subsistence needs” of their families. Just as you would expect, a number of Republican officials in California demanded that those who obtained cash at casinos return the money to the state.

Who is upset by the debit card casino story? Nearly everyone involved.

Citizen observers, who are neither on welfare nor are part of government, are likely to bristle at the news. How dare these people who are being supported by “our tax dollars” act so frivolously? This is a clear case of wasting “our country’s resources.” Don’t recipients realize that going to casinos is a luxury and is not essential – especially if taxpayers are ultimately going to foot the bill? Many citizens, if asked, would tell the welfare clients that spending time and money in casinos shows poor judgement and should not be permitted by anyone who is on the public dole.

Certainly government bureaucrats are upset by the report that state-issued debit cards have been used in casinos. Welfare recipients are supposed to be docile and comply with the directives of their government social worker handlers. They never should have been allowed to fritter away the state’s money irresponsibly. The solution, of course, is to monitor the behavior of welfare clients more closely and put stricter controls on their spending. This might be the right time to pass new laws and enact regulations on how welfare clients are allowed to use debit cards.

And don’t overlook the welfare recipients themselves. Many must be furious at the unwanted intrusion on their personal lives? What is wrong with spending money in casinos if that is what they want to do? Is it really bad to be interested in gambling? If so, why does the state of California have a lottery and why does it urge residents – mostly lower income residents – to play?

Welfare clients are continuously told by government officials that their monetary entitlements are theirs by right. There is no shame in collecting and spending money that the state owes you. If you don’t take it someone else will. There is no reason to feel or express gratitude for payments that are legally yours to enjoy.

Now pull back and observe what is going on. Citizens, government officials, and welfare clients are swimming in an ocean of animosity. The toxic sentiments are the direct result of the welfare system itself. When we are all tied together by government edict there are vast opportunities for rancor.

As soon as someone receives an entitlement ordinary citizens are put on notice that they are paying for it through their taxes – and that person is branded as a burden. Does the welfare client “really need it?” Is the recipient “truly deserving?” Are “my tax dollars” being foolishly wasted?

Government officials look upon welfare clients with a cold eye. The bargain is we – the government – will shower you with benefits. You – the recipients – will conform to our preferences of how you live. We – the government – will continue to pay you, but you surrender your autonomy to us.

And welfare clients, like ordinary citizens, would rather not be under the thumb of a bureaucrat. But once they accept entitlements they are trapped, and they resent it.

It does not have to be this way. If state-sponsored welfare were replaced by assistance provided by private organizations the built-in enmity would evaporate. Ordinary citizens are not inclined to be angry if low income people go to casinos, so long as the citizens are not on the hook for the bill. Government officials do not have to justify the voluntary actions of people who frequent casinos if those people are not being supported by the government. And those of modest means can appreciate that accepting welfare payments in return for their liberty is not a good deal.

Here is a story about welfare that you should find irritating. Fans of the welfare state insist that the programs they push are animated by soft-hearted, humane, warm intentions. But the result of having government entitlements is mutual animosity – encouraging each person to be unsympathetically suspicious, resentful, and downright hostile.

*** See other entries at AlertMindPublishing.com in “Monthly Columns.” ***

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