What’s best for poor people – to remain dependent on government, or to be encouraged to work for their own money so they can be independent?
Consider this article from the Wall Street Journal.
Earned success means defining your future as you see fit and achieving that success on the basis of merit and hard work. It allows you to measure your life’s “profit” however you want, be it in money, making beautiful music, or helping people learn English. Earned success is at the root of American exceptionalism.
The link between earned success and life satisfaction is well established by researchers. The University of Chicago’s General Social Survey, for example, reveals that people who say they feel “very successful” or “completely successful” in their work lives are twice as likely to say they are very happy than people who feel “somewhat successful.” It doesn’t matter if they earn more or less income; the differences persist.
The opposite of earned success is “learned helplessness,” a term coined by Martin Seligman, the eminent psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. It refers to what happens if rewards and punishments are not tied to merit: People simply give up and stop trying to succeed.
During experiments, Mr. Seligman observed that when people realized they were powerless to influence their circumstances, they would become depressed and had difficulty performing even ordinary tasks. In an interview in the New York Times, Mr. Seligman said: “We found that even when good things occurred that weren’t earned, like nickels coming out of slot machines, it did not increase people’s well-being. It produced helplessness. People gave up and became passive.”
Learned helplessness was what my wife and I observed then, and still do today, in social-democratic Spain. The recession, rigid labor markets, and excessive welfare spending have pushed unemployment to 24.4%, with youth joblessness over 50%. Nearly half of adults under 35 live with their parents. Unable to earn their success, Spaniards fight to keep unearned government benefits.
Meanwhile, their collective happiness—already relatively low—has withered. According to the nonprofit World Values Survey, 20% of Spaniards said they were “very happy” about their lives in 1981. This fell to 14% by 2007, even before the economic downturn.
That trajectory should be a cautionary tale to Americans who are watching the U.S. government careen toward a system that is every bit as socially democratic as Spain’s.
Government spending as a percentage of GDP in America is about 36%—roughly the same as in Spain. The Congressional Budget Office tells us it will reach 50% by 2038. The Tax Foundation reports that almost 70% of Americans take more out of the tax system than they pay into it. Meanwhile, politicians foment social division on the basis of income inequality, instead of attempting to improve mobility and opportunity through education reform, pro-growth policies, and an entrepreneur-friendly economy.
These trends do not mean we are doomed to repeat Spain’s unhappy fate. But our system of earned success will not defend itself.
How do we make government promote “earned success” over dependency on welfare?
Investors Business Daily reports on one state that decided to encourage people to get off of welfare, and to get back to work.
The number of childless, able-bodied adult food stamp recipients in a New England state fell by 80% over the course of a few months. This didn’t require magic, just common sense.
From December 2014 to March 2015, the caseload of able-bodied Maine adults with no dependents crashed from 13,332 recipients to 2,678, says the Heritage Foundation. This is a remarkable change and needs to be repeated in government programs across the country.
How Maine achieved this is no mystery. Gov. Paul LePage simply established work requirements for food stamp recipients who have no dependents and are able enough to be employed. They must, write Heritage policy analysts Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, “take a job” — just 20 hours a week — “participate in training, or perform community service” for a mere 24 hours a week. Recipients who do none of those are stripped of their food stamp benefits after three months.
This isn’t a radical new idea. Rector and Sheffield cite a successful historical precedent:
“When work requirements were established in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program in the 1990s, nationwide caseloads dropped by almost as much, albeit over a few years rather than a few months.”
In the Obama era, “the food stamp caseload of adults without dependents who are able-bodied has more than doubled nationally, swelling from nearly 2 million recipients in 2008 to around 5 million today” across the country, Rector and Sheffield report. That’s far too many Americans who can take care of themselves living at the expense of others. The situation cries out for reform.
The Heritage report says that if the Maine policy were repeated nationally, and the caseload dropped “at the same rate it did in Maine (which is very likely), taxpayer savings would be over $8.4 billion per year.”
“Further reforms could bring the savings to $9.7 billion per year: around $100 per year for every individual currently paying federal income tax.”
[…]The success in Maine is but a blip, affecting only a thin slice of the nation’s welfare rolls. Yet it is a model, a prototype for reforming welfare programs in need of change or elimination, which is all of them. Policymakers at all levels should be rushing to adopt it, then adapt it.
Now, do you think that the governor of Maine is a Republican, or a Democrat? Republicans want people to be independent of government, and productive, because that makes them more free. Democrats want people to be unproductive and dependent, because that makes them easier to control.