When critics of the welfare state began to voice their opinions about its consequences they are often labeled as uncaring or indifferent toward the poor. Accusations of “blaming the victim” abound. They say that we want to remove the “safety net” that serves to catch those, for reasons beyond their control, who have fallen into poverty. Nothing could be farther from the truth. However it’s important that we understand what safety nets are for. They serve the purpose of catching those who have fallen not those who have laid down of their own volition. And it would do us good to remember that every net has its limit. And I believe we are watching our safety net fray right before our eyes. The truth is many of the political “do gooders” who expand the welfare state are more preoccupied with either its ability to curry votes or its appeal to their self-righteousness than they are the consequences that follow. Even a plan created with the best of intentions does not always hold up to the actions and reactions of flesh and blood human beings who are motivated primarily by self-interest. It has been repeated ad nauseam but that’s because its true, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
As stated in the previous article the rise of the welfare state has given birth to a new definition for poverty. Since the majority of the poor possess material assets that were once exclusive to the middle class poverty is no longer defined absolutely. It has taken on more of a relative meaning. That is to say poverty is now defined by comparison to someone else. And this is proving to have dangerous consequences. When the foundation for defining the poor is how well they measure up to the rich then we have the ingredients to incite class warfare. When poverty was defined in absolute terms and a man acquired adequate housing, clothing, food and transportation he was inclined to be content with his lot because he did not consider himself poor anymore. But today you can have all those things, with an Xbox, smartphone and $150 shoes to boot and still live under the cloud of “relative” poverty. This twisted logic can only lead to envy. We only have to think back to the flash mobs of the “occupiers” to see that it has. You had people using smartphones from the late Steve Jobs, and laptops by Bill Gates to organize a movement to spend the night in parks that the tax dollars of the rich helped to pay for. Oh and you can’t forget those Starbucks lattes! “That darned one percent!” Despite the obvious reality that envy separates us more than dollars and cents the class warfare rhetoric wages on with calls for redistribution of wealth. What should be even more embarrassing to us in our envy is the statistical evidence concerning the rich and the poor. Only 3.5 percent of Americans have a net worth of one million dollars or more.* A study done by academics at the University of Michigan followed people in the bottom 20 percent for eight years. They discovered that only 3 percent of the American population remained in the bottom 20 percent at the end of an eight year period.** If you were to combine those two you have less than ten percent of the population that make up the “consistently” rich and poor. That leaves roughly 90 percent of us who are significantly neither. You would think that the rich and the poor are the biggest classes that exist if you listen to media pundits and politicians. Obviously they are not. So who redistributes what to who?
We have to admit in this era of relative poverty and consequently relative riches, that the real wealth that seems to be lacking is not money or materials. What is scarce is moral capital. The values, standards, and sense of personal responsibility that serve to elevate any person or people. The mere relocation of money from one person to the next does not contribute one iota to alleviate the effects of the self-destructive behavior of many of those in poverty today. Real poverty is spiritual, so if we want to distribute or redistribute anything it should be values.
*Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko, The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy p.16
**Greg Duncan et al., Years of Poverty, Years of Plenty: The Changing Fortunes of American Workers and Families (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press)