Taking Back America!
I don't know anyone - liberal, conservative, libertarian, or socialist for that matter - who believes that welfare is better than work. Do you? So if everyone agrees welfare is undesirable, why on earth are so many Americans on it? That question will answer itself at the end of this column.
The dilemma of government-monopoly welfare for those who are able-bodied is that assisting people in need makes them needier; and dependence teaches dependence to people who need to learn to be independent. The Greeks knew it, the Romans knew it, the Reformation dudes knew it, Ben Franklin knew it, our grandparents and parents knew it. Everybody knows it. And for the record, corporate welfare is equally destructive to the health of a firm, as individual welfare is to the person, but this another post for another day.
The longer one is removed from work, the less able to work they become. Their knowledge fades or becomes obsolete, new tools and methods and ideas make their expertise irrelevant, and bad habits become engrained. The libertarian answer to welfare, like all other social services, is private charity and private insurance, but we should not wait for the scales to be lifted from a world of un-libertarian eyes before we try save another generation from a life sentence of welfare-induced poverty and despair. Pragmatism is not unprincipled.
The solution to the welfare dilemma is quite simple - let people work for it.
Notice I did not say "make" people work for it, as conservatives are wont to do; work is not punishment and need is not moral turpitude. Make welfare voluntary; and let people work in exchange for the assistance they receive, so that they develop the understanding that income is accomplishment measured. Or, alternatively, let them choose not to receive state assistance if that is their preference - we libertarians do not believe in forcing people to do things they do not want to do.
And here's were the fun begins...if we are going to let people to work, we must also permit employers to provide work for them to do, and the way to do this most effectively is to simply remove the requirement that employers pay them. Splat! Splat! Splat! That sound you hear is liberal heads exploding at the suggestion that "free" labor be supplied to millions of evil, profiteering corporations.
Breathe into the bag, Jerry, because this going to leave a mark, too: zero is what someone who does not know how to work is worth. Splat! Splat! Splat! Having committed the unpardonable sin of stating truthfully what far too many people are worth in strictly economic terms, I will apologize for the brain-matter splatter and anguish I may have caused my liberal friends. But note that the first rule of business turnarounds is to stop lying to yourself about what something is worth; and the second rule is to do something to make it actually be worth more.
Here's how it goes, conceptually. The state provides vouchers to employers equal to, say, 25 hours of work – any employer can receive as many as they want. Companies "pay" welfare recipients who come to work at their place of business with those vouchers in exchange for 25 hours of weekly work; and that completed voucher is presented to whichever agency of government determines eligibility for welfare benefits – unemployment compensation, general assistance, AFDC, etc.
Any abuse of the voucher system and the CEO goes to jail – no ifs, no buts, no fines, no underlings taking the rap – for something like 5 years in state prison living orange with the other predators who should not be walking among us free people. Fraud is one of the worst crimes as it takes advantage of our good nature and makes us afraid of living free. We don’t just tolerate it, we reward it in this country - and we need to stop.
The work "matchmaking" is entirely voluntary, so the slave-labor analogies certain to be hurled at me in the comments following his post don't hold water - I’ve warned you before not to send the Junior Varsity. No one is forcing anyone to do anything, no one is working for nothing, and no one would have to endure a second week at an abusive employer. Slaves, on the other hand, can’t leave and their labor is confiscated – think taxpayers.
Working welfarians will learn valuable employment skills and gain pride and confidence by earning their way in this world; anyone who has helped someone learn how to work knows the transformative value of work to a troubled soul. Companies receive adjunct labor to expand and grow their operations at low cost while developing a pool of potential full time employees with relevant job-ready skills. The state can discontinue all of its ineffective training programs immediately and reduce overall costs of social services rapidly as people migrate from welfare-work to conventional employment once they get the hang of it.
Eventually, the welfare rolls shrink to such low levels that private charity can manage the load and the state can get out of the welfare business altogether, making libertarians happy, which is the whole purpose of proposing a libertarian solution to welfare. Win-win-win...win.
Relax, Norma Rae - bringing in unskilled workers at zero-pay does not threaten the wages of skilled workers at a firm; just the opposite, in fact. The skilled welder can weld more while his/her work-welfare apprentice is sweeping up, running to fetch weld tips and wire, etc. That higher welding productivity makes the welder worth more, and he/she will get paid more as a result. How many wins are we up to now?
And no company is going to run out and replace its paid skilled workers with “free” unskilled workers. The suggestion of such a thing displays total ignorance of wealth creation, competitive differentiation, the basis of wage employment, capitalism, and capitalists. Teaching welfare recipients, especially generational ones, how to work will cost companies money; the only possible return on that investment is for their paid workforce to be more productive and boost profits, and you can’t bust that move without a paid (i.e. skilled) workforce.
Initially, the state will have to be the employer of last resort if private work is insufficient to absorb the welfare population. No worries there - there is no shortage of litter to pick up, graffiti to remove, rusty crap to paint, snow to shovel at homes of shut-ins, weeds to pull, etc. If state workers can't figure out how to introduce weed-pullers to weeds, I know several inner-city pastors who would cheerfully step in tomorrow with ready-lists of community chores that need doing while the intractable public servants sulk in their cubes. Let ‘em pout; we have a world to fix.
And what about those able-bodied people who refuse to work? Do we just let them starve? Yup – starve. Splat! What about their kids? Take their kids away and let couples who will love them save them. Splat! Failing to support your kids when you have the opportunity to provide for them is abuse; we should quit calling it anything else and not tolerate, excuse, or subsidize it. We don’t owe able adults the privilege of living off the work of others (Splat!), but we do owe every kid a chance to be loved.
Employers give billions to charity and give millions of hours to worthwhile community projects when they get nothing of economic value in return – they will jump all over this one, trust me. And is it unreasonable to ask people to work for the income we provide them? Back when we used to be a reasonable nation we used to think not. Most people on assistance want to work but don’t know how to either do a job or find one. Providing the opportunity to learn and the chance to impress an employer is a far greater kindness than keeping them alive in perpetual despair living as wards of the state.
Now there is one small, tiny, itsy-bitsy catch to this proposal – moving large numbers of people from welfare to work will require abolishing several labor laws, exempting firms from lawsuits, voiding union contracts, changing IRS regulations, rescinding hundreds of rules, and dismantling the massive bureaucratic empires whose survival depends on retaining and expanding the status quo. In other words, fixing welfare requires the government to get out of the way.
And if the government has to get out of the way in order to get people off of welfare, it is pretty clear why so many are on welfare in the first place, now, isn’t it?
“Moment Of Clarity” is a weekly commentary by Libertarian writer and speaker Tim Nerenz, Ph.D. Visit Tim’s website www.timnerenz.com to find your moment and order Tim’s new book, “BRING IT!