Welfare Without the State
By Nelson Hultberg - March 28, 2014

Libertarians and free-market conservatives take an unequivocal stand on the provision of state welfare. It should be phased out and returned to the private sector. Charity is not a proper function of government.

This, of course, attracts the usual horrified denunciations of, "My God, what kind of human being are you? Don't you have any compassion? How can you wish to suppress poor people so? We can't just let people be poor; we must do something!"

But to be against state funded welfare does not mean one is devoid of compassion or desirous of suppressing poor people. It means one is against the dispensing of special privileges from the government to the citizens of a country, which means that the help we give to poor people must be done with our own money and time, and not be confiscated from others to gratify our desires and assuage our guilt. It means that if American citizens are to possess equal rights, then government cannot take money from some and give it to others. To enact such a policy is to convey privileges upon some at the expense of others, which destroys the moral-philosophical foundation of our entire system. So if we are to maintain justice (i.e., equal rights), government must be barred from transferring wealth from some individuals to other individuals. This means that all charity must be private.

The "safety net" for low-income earners will still function in a laissez-faire society. What our present day intellectual community refuses to face is that the phasing out of state welfare would not, in any way, eliminate the safety net. It would just transfer the safety net from the ministrations of power hungry government bureaucracies to a vast, private sector of concerned and humane persons. There are countless charitable organizations, agencies and groups, of both religious and secular nature, that would capably assume the role of a "welfare safety net" for people in need.

Richard Cornuelle, in his book Healing America, points out that the private sector includes nearly 500,000 churches, mosques and synagogues, 37,000 community service agencies affiliated with the United Way, 27,000 private foundations and 3300 voluntary hospitals. There are the nationally prominent organizations such as the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Alcoholic's Anonymous, The National Arthritis Foundation, etc. There are thousands of suicide and rape prevention centers. Five thousand volunteers in America work for an organization called Recordings for the Blind. The Civil Air Patrol has 60,000 members and 7,000 planes and is, year after year, involved in search and rescue and disaster relief. There are 5 million members in 20,000 communities that have formed citizens crime-watching groups. There are a whole host of private agencies coordinating the resettlement of refugees in America, which in a five-year period alone aided 300,000 Southeast Asians and 135,000 Cubans and Haitians. Arco Products sponsored the rescue of 1,000 boat people from the South China Sea. There are presently 7,000 farm cooperatives and 9,000 miscellaneous cooperatives in this country. It is estimated by their national clearinghouse that there are approximately 700,000 to 800,000 mutual-aid groups of all sizes, who use little or no money, but donate their time, their expertise, and their concern for their fellow human beings in America. They perform services for the blind, for the crippled, for the mentally ill, for burn victims, arthritis sufferers, epileptics, diabetics and thousands of other people who are in need.

Here then is our answer to the dilemma of state welfare and its hideous ganglia of government bureaucracy. The vast panorama of volunteer groups, agencies, churches, and associations mentioned above would become the funnel through which billions in aid would be distributed to all those who are in need. Would not at least 75 percent of all Americans be willing to contribute some part of what they earn every year to such voluntary organizations? Given the right moral inculcation from youth on, there are very few of us who wouldn't.

Figures from the federal Office of Management and Budget confirm that government welfare programs totaled approximately $740 billion for the year 2012. According to the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy in Indianapolis, IN, private charitable contributions in America totaled $316 billion for the year 2012.

Once the apparatus of government is removed from the field of welfare, though, private charity for the poor and needy would quadruple and perhaps expand even more. The oppressive taxes we pay for welfare greatly stifle desire on the part of citizens to give privately. Most people reason that it's the government's job. But this way of thinking would end with the phaseout of government's role in welfare. Thus, the poor would be more than adequately taken care of with mega-billions in aid generated. The source of their sustenance would just come voluntarily from private givers rather than coercively from public bureaucracies. Old-fashioned neighborliness would return, and make of charity what it was always supposed to be – a temporary helping hand and not a habitual way of life.

Intellectual Justification of State Welfarism

The intellectual justification for all this government largesse and welfare extravagance that dominates modernity lies in the collectivists' conception of man as a helpless product of his environment. It is one of the most sacred beliefs of welfare state ideologues, that the great majority of human beings are not really capable of taking care of themselves, that they need authoritarian bureaucracies to watch over them, to guide and comfort them, to feed, lead and love them. "If left to fend for themselves, millions of poor people would starve," the collectivists shriek hysterically at mere mention of the fact that welfare should be voluntary and not a function of the state.

What exactly is the truth in this matter, though? Would poor people in America actually starve without government welfare? Are men and women really all that helpless? If history is any guide, the answer is certainly no. Prior to 1932 in this country, there were no welfare agencies (at least none funded from Washington). There were no social security programs. There were no federally funded services at all to help the needy and the unfortunate. And this writer has found no school text, popular chronicle, or American citizen living in that era that claims the existence of starving people in the streets.

Such grim forecasts of potential horror and deprivation are demagogic fairy tales portraying free individuals as heartless ogres and state bureaucrats as angelic saviours. They are conjured up to justify a continual expansion of federal power and the ever-increasing confiscation of individual earnings for government spending marathons to satiate that power and enslave those productive people willing to go along with such subservience.

Think back to the times when this country was being settled, and formed into the nation it is today, when the pioneers were moving west in the 1820s and 1830s, when the gold rushers were chasing their dreams in California in '49, the railroad men hammering out their transcontinental lines after the Civil War, the wildcatters of the oil fields erecting their rigs in Texas during the early part of the twentieth century – think of these times and the hardy men and women who dominated them. What would have been their response if Washington had tried to send social workers from the government out to their neighborhoods to watch over them, to chart their progress, to succor and aid them in their trials? Hell, most of them were living in shacks on one meal a day. They had no medical insurance, no guarantee of success, no regular paycheck, no sure job, food or housing. By today's standards, they were certainly in need. Yet they would have stoned such intrusive do-gooders out of their communities and hung the politicians responsible up by their thumbs. America was built by strong, individualistic men and women of spirit, not by sociologists and not by governmental busybodies.

Contrary to statist fairy tales, Americans are quite capable of taking care of themselves in the absence of government aid. In fact, they are capable of superhuman, heroic feats of endeavor, courage and accomplishment all on their own. And when they're down and out, they're capable of a compassion and genuine benevolence that no nation of people ever in history has known.

"There is more laughter and more song in these United States than anywhere else on earth," wrote Henry Grady Weaver in The Mainspring of Human Progress. "In shops, streets, factories, elevators, on highways and on farms – everywhere – Americans are friendly and kindly people, responsive to every rumor of distress. Someone in America will always divide his food and share his gasoline or his tire tool with a person in need."

Making One's Own Way

Private charity sustained the poor in this country for the first century and a half of our existence. It can do it again. A great part of the drama that gives to life its value is tied up in the process of making one's own way in the world. To take this right away from men by turning their welfare over to the regimental control of government, is to snuff out one of the prime motives of their being and condemn them to a life of perpetual dependency and ennui. It is so degradingly hum-drum, this lugubrious welfare state with its army of piddling bureaucrats hovering sanctimoniously over men and women in their tribulations. There is no sense of the heroic in a government-guaranteed existence. And there is no joy or virtue in state dictated charity. There is only the forlorn stench of a morbidly lost meaning that men surely were not meant to bear.

The spirit of self reliance and humane brotherhood once diffused this land with a sense of sturdiness and constantly soaring hope, kindling in all men of good will a desire to take care of themselves and those among them incapable of doing so. Such a spirit led to an exhibition of what is genuinely fine and noble in the human soul. Is it to be said that Americans can no longer live up to their destiny and the responsibilities of liberty that form that destiny?

In the end, there can be neither freedom, nor stability, nor justice in a nation of arbitrary law. State dispensed welfare is, of necessity, arbitrary. It is the conveyance of favors to some at the expense of others. Until we as a people gain the resolve to rid ourselves of all such favors and privileges from the seats of government, we will continue to suffer from the malignant excesses of bureaucracy that plague our lives at present. Welfare is a person-to-person problem; it does not belong in the arena of government endeavor. Its privatization is not some vague ideal that we can dream about. Privatized welfare is a just and practical necessity that we must now bring about.

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