Thursday, September 29, 2005

Lessons from the Welfare State

" Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." –
George Santayana

In “Lessons of Katrina” I wrote about Alexis DeTocqueville’s “Memoirs on Pauperism” (1835) recounting his observation that the large pauper class in Britain was a result of the right to public assistance dating to Elizabethan times.

Although Tocqueville’s Democracy in America says nothing about American pauperism, he warns that the temptation to rely on government entitlements would inevitably erode personal independence. The flooding due to Hurricane Katrina exposed a pauper class in New Orleans.

A Brit friend doubted my account of Tocqueville and the British welfare system. I was reminded of Santayana’s warning above.

Tocqueville was introduced to the evils of pauperism by the J.B. Say (1828) book about the French social system. Say restates the Malthusian theory that population always tends to exceed the means of existence and does so even more when a policy of relief encourages the very poor to have large families supported not by their labor but by the government.

The British Poor Laws were introduced by Elizabeth I in the 16th century following the disolution of monasteries. England was then the richest nation in the world but also had the highest rate of pauperism among developed nations.

Much later, due to the hardships of the Napoleonic wars, British justices established the Speenhamland system in 1795. These new Poor Laws created a social safety net whereby those whose earnings fell below a given standard would receive a subsidy to maintain a subsistence level.

The result was an increasing birthrate among the poor, a dramatic increase in the poor population (reaching 20%), coupled with a decrease in wages and productivity and a rise in food prices and unemployment among the general population. Quite a success it was!

By the 1830’s when Tocquville visited England, the publics were demanding reform of the welfare system. Those reforms concentrated public benefits on the aged and sick, while able bodied men and women were “encouraged” to find work.

Tocqueville went even further than the British reforms by challenging the very principle of public relief. He noted that the progress of civilization transforms more and more wants of people into perceived needs thereby creating a pauper class that may be as well off as many in the midle classes of less developed countries.

Though based on noble intentions, public charity is fatally flawed because it denies the basic fact of human nature, that men will work only to survive or improve their condition. Public charity as a “right” degrades men by enabling them to live a life of dependency and idleness.

Meanwhile Tocqueville conceded the necessity of charity for “inevitable evils such as the helplessness of infancy, the decrepitude of old age, sickness, insanity and calamities.” He much preferred private charity, using the public dole only as a last resort.

In a recently discovered second manuscript called the “Second Work on Pauperism” (1837) Tocqueville noted the supreme importance of personal property ownership that “instills the moral and social virtues that prevents pauperism.” Sounds a lot like George Bush’s Ownership Society.

It is truly unfortunate that the New Deal policies enacted during the Great Depression have become embedded in the social fabric of some of the poor, aided and abetted by the professional victicrats. Welfare reform enacted by the Republican Congress during Clinton’s first term raised millions out of the dependency class.

Now, however, the Jesse Jackson victicrats are using the hard times caused by Katrina and Rita to demand more welfare, when what the poor need most of all are values and fathers at home.

It appears that we must continually re-learn the lessons of the past.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

No more durn welfare ..... best thing that could happen.


9:03 PM  
Anonymous Pamela said...

Billy, I love it when you talk "Tocqueville"!! :))
I think it was Bill Bennett last night on Hannity & Colmes who said (paraphrased): Bush's incentive work and education programs planned for NO and the area hit by Katrina for the "poor", translated welfare recipients, will be a tremendous boost to lifting folks out of poverty in that region. Let's hope the Dems in Louisanna agree~

7:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Bill,
All I have to say is wow! I am so glad you are on our side, which makes me feel so sad that there are sides. Everyone should be on God's side.


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