Death By Handout

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August 29, 2006

'We have rights, as individuals, to give as much of our own money as we please to charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of public money.' ~ statesman and patriot Daniel Webster

There are over 50 million Americans currently receiving handouts from the government. Today we take an odyssey into just one aspect of the handout 'rabbit hole' and the destruction it wreaks upon recipients, not to mention those footing the bill.

The following are true stories. I haven't intentionally chosen the worst-case scenarios. These are just the three relatively young people I happen to know who live off taxpayers via Social Security. I've tried to present the facts as free from judgment as possible. You can conclude for yourself how they have fared through the government's largesse and what the odds are of the countless others on the dole faring any better. Bags have been provided for your convenience if you should feel yourself becoming ill. All aboard!

Modifying Terms

First I should clarify terminology. The word 'welfare' has made an interesting transformation in our culture, thanks to the spin doctors in Washington , D.C. What was once an innocuous word in the preamble to the Constitution meaning 'well being,' it originally referred to the restraints on government's attempts to stop us from exercising the freedom of each of us to pursue our own.

After decades of inappropriate fondling by big government, it has been magically morphed into a loaded, unlimited carte-blanche vehicle for the power-mad. As usual, Welfare, with a capital 'W' is disguised as a benefit. Actually, it robs us and destroys poor and sick people's chances of securing 'the blessings of liberty,' all the while feathering the nests of layer upon layer of bureaucrats. Only a politician with unlimited funding and power could conceive of something so self-serving, destructive and dastardly as the public assistance umbrella that we have come to understand 'Welfare' to be today.

Meet Jim

Jim is an obese 34-year-old, unemployed factory worker. He injured his back on the job several years ago and became addicted to painkillers. He has collected Social Security for his disability for several years now. He smokes pot every day and sells it to help make ends meet. His apartment has become Party Central for young people who are drawn to it, even though he keeps a low profile. In all fairness, Jim does not 'live large,' as they say.

Disability recipients are allowed to earn a small income without penalty, aside from what they are given. They are penalized if they earn 'too much,' and are therefore highly motivated to curb their incomes or lie. How anyone can prevent themselves from earning too much to continue to qualify as 'disabled' is a paradox for which only government insanity can create incentive. Buckle up ' this ride goes inside-out and upside-down.

Through ingenuity and self-motivation, Jim has proven his ability to provide for himself by selling a product to people that they clearly want and will obtain one way or another despite his injury. If he had more motivation (hunger, for instance), it is possible that he could earn a good living for himself without so much as bending over, as many people do.

Without engaging an entire discussion on the futility and harm caused by the war on drugs, I will make only this one comment. Over one hundred people a year die in U.S. prisons from drug overdoses. If they can't keep drugs out of the highest security facilities in the nation, how can they keep them out of a neighborhood or a nation? They answer is, they can't. They never have and never will no matter how many billions of dollars and lives are lost because of it.

If the powers that be knew of the nature of Jim's side job, we all know what would happen to him. As always, they get you coming and going, as my Dad used to say.

After years of living this hazy existence, Jim attempted suicide. He landed in the hospital and finally obtained the surgery necessary to repair his disc problem, all paid for, naturally, by the taxpayer. After recovery he was finally informed that in order to continue receiving disability benefits, he must attempt to look for a job. (As I said, this ride goes inside-out and upside-down.) Unfortunately, now times are tough in Metro Detroit and jobs are scarce.

Jim obviously has entrepreneurial tendencies. Without the War on Drugs, selling pot would not have been the most lucrative line of work available to a self-starter. Without layers of bureaucracy preventing entrepreneurs from getting started, anything could have been possible for someone who sees a need and decides to fill it. Without government limits on income, Jim could very well have been motivated to work hard enough to build a much different life for himself, one which does not make suicide an inviting option.

Forrest Carter seems to think that physical death is not the worst of it. 'Do not feed my people. No matter how good your food is, when you feed them you destroy their spirit.' (from Cry Geronimo) No matter how good your food is? Welfare cheese hardly qualifies as good food.

Without government 'assistance,' what might Jim's (much less the taxpayer's) situation be like today? If he had known there was no safety net, he may have been more motivated to have the surgery he needed while he still had health benefits from his employer. After recovery, he could have returned to his job. If his work was of value to his employer, he may have been able to move into a position that did not require back strain. Or he could have obtained some other kind of work elsewhere, provided he'd had a good employment record, the usual reward for conscientiousness. But with a convenient, free safety net in place, why not take some time off and see what happens?

There are no free lunches

There are myriad problems with safety nets. First, they are not free, not for the recipient and not for the taxpayer. As with all government programs, recipients become psychologically, if not physically, dependent on the dole, exacerbating their problems.

Handouts are not limited to poor or sick people. Quite the contrary! They permeate every aspect of American life, from farm subsidies to small business loans, home mortgages, banking, automobiles, airlines, education, health, empire building, etc. Lobbyists make a living obtaining taxpayer funds for private use. There is no aspect of American life unmolested by government. We are a sick nation because of it; a nation addicted to the use of force and every man, woman and child in the U.S. is on the hook to the tune of half a million dollars each in government debt for it, give or take a hundred thousand or so. There is no reason to assume that this number will be heading down any time soon. There are excellent reasons to assume it will rise.

Years ago I once filed for unemployment benefits. One week I did not look for work and said as much when I was asked where I had sought employment. The nice bureaucrat informed me that I should then write down the names of the places I should have looked for work and handed me my check. She knew the system and she knew it required warm bodies to keep it going. People comin' all up in up there 'n tellin' the truth, well, that just don't make the government wheels go 'round!

Pain is unpleasant, but it is useful in that it can motivate a person to find a way to improve their circumstances. One old fellow I know, Leo, once spent a couple years of his early work life in a manufacturing environment. He realized he could never do it for the rest of his life and put himself through night school to become an engineer. He did well, also putting his six children through college.

The usefulness of pain is sacrificed when big government rushes in with other people's money to interfere with the normal learning process of life and actually serves no one but government itself. Government is able to employ far more paper-pushers than it could if it had no 'customers' for such products. Those paper-pushers also require health benefits, vacation and retirement packages. In fact, the average bureaucrat's standard of living on average has surpassed Mr. and Mrs. Average Taxpayer by a two-to-one margin, with far, far greater job security.

Government breeds inertia. We see it in the faces of government employees at the DMV and post offices, we see it in the faces of recipients waiting in lines for their handouts at clinics and unemployment offices, and we see it in the empty eyes of children in government-run schools. This is why it outlaws drugs, to eliminate competition and grow itself via the War on Drugs all at once.

Meet Ted

His is a pitiful, true story of a guy dealt a lousy hand. At age 11, Ted became diabetic. He had to forego the simple, careless childhood pleasure of ice cream, candy and soda. Instead he had to learn to test his own blood sugar and inject himself with insulin accordingly.

Ted did well with all this back then, until his late teens when things began to fall apart. His parents had had a violent relationship, which ended abruptly one day when his Dad walked out never to return. He was 16 and felt that his Dad had not only abandoned his mother and their home, but himself as well. This was when his troubles really began.

He started experimenting with drinking, a worst-case scenario for a diabetic. Family pleas fell on deaf ears. Ted used to say he had the flu when anyone else was simply hung-over. I'm sure he felt much sicker than others after drinking excessively with alcohol's affect on blood sugar.

Ted fell in love and married a woman to whom he seemed ill suited. He seemed very happy for a while until their relationship turned violent too. After a number of turbulent years, they were divorced and Ted relinquished the lion's share of the assets to his ex-wife, for reasons possibly only the heart can understand. He later regretted it.

Ted started having bouts with depression. During them, he would not go to work, eat properly or even take his insulin for days at a time. Ted kept drinking and taking aim at himself with donuts and candy. He kept moving a treadmill from one apartment to another that had never felt the touch of a foot, exercise of a sort, I suppose. His health deteriorated rapidly over the next decade to the point where he'd had two heart attacks and developed a blind spot in one eye by the age of 35. He started dialysis for kidney failure before 40. Ted had had so many surgeries he now finds that he cannot sleep without Vicodin.

A year or so into dialysis, Ted started collecting disability. Dear reader, would you imagine that getting a handout would induce someone to take more responsibility for themselves, or less? Normally I would have to say that the answer must be 'less.' Believe it or not, in this case the answer is a qualified 'more.' After a bit longer on dialysis, Ted started to feel better and he returned to work full time. Unfortunately, that's not the end of the story. He also kept collecting his disability pay while working, in an attempt to finally get ahead in life! Does this sound implausible or unusual?

Getting ahead means different things to different people. To you or me, it might mean having dental work done that you've been putting off, paying off debt, or setting aside savings for a rainy day. To Ted it meant new clothes and a new hobby ' blackjack. Forget the dental work, there would be plenty of time and money for all that after he got settled. He had big plans for saving up a nest egg and buying a mobile home.

Ted had opted out of buying insurance to pay his medical expenses that were not covered by Medicare (which he could have afforded.) He eventually became the target of a lawsuit from the hospital for those unpaid bills, which he continues to rack up on a weekly basis. Economic times being what they are, the work soon dried up for Ted, and so too the financial plans.

Ted also opted out of auto insurance and drove without it. Recently, after neglecting to eat in a timely fashion, he got dizzy behind the wheel of his car and blacked out. He hit a parked car and wound up in the hospital for treatment. It was paid for at taxpayer expense along with those of the 90 million or so other Medicare/Medicaid recipient's expenses.

I always feel sad when I think about Ted, witness his accelerated physical degeneration and sadder still to see it all in print. He was indeed dealt a 'low pair' in the game of life. He also made many very poor choices and continues to do so, such as donuts for breakfast. (To be perfectly honest, I'd prefer donuts for breakfast too, but I know better than to eat them, and I'm not diabetic.)

When confronted, Ted innocently proclaims that his life is fine. There is no reason to consider making any changes at all. It would be a long shot to hope for any improvement in Ted's health or its mounting cost to the rest of us. Well before retirement age, he will likely need permanent inpatient care.

Are you outraged yet? No? Maybe this will nail it for you. Of all the hundreds of millions of various forms of welfare dollars paid out yearly to over 50 million recipients, regardless of actual 'need' or benefit, there are three times as many dollars distributed among mostly white, middle class layers of bureaucrats who manage the handout machine, all in an effort to simply keep the machine running. It needs recipients as grist for the mill.

Meet Susan

She is a good-hearted person who loves her children. After a number of years of being unhappily married, she decided to divorce her husband. Times being what they are in Metro Detroit, even though she is a hard worker, as a stay-at-home Mom she has struggled to find work that would pay her a decent wage. She also prefers to be home with her children when school is not in session, and such employment is difficult to find, as any Mom can attest.

Susan means well towards her children, but she is a very uptight person. She's also quite bitter towards her ex-husband. She told me she had married him because her biological clock had been ticking and he had a steady job working for the postal service. This is hardly a good way to create an atmosphere for the most challenging undertaking as ever existed ' raising children. In the old days, my Dad would have said 'You've made your bed, now lay in it.' Not that she should remain in an unhappy marriage, but that she is responsible for the situation in which she now finds herself because it is the result of her own choices. Government safety nets distort reality, promote irresponsibility and create dependency.

Over the years Susan has developed IBS - Irritable Bowel Syndrome. (Some heartless cads might suggest the initials say it all.) I am a strong believer in the mind-body connection. How can stress not be a factor here, as it is shown to be in many other psychosomatic illnesses? You can probably guess that she eventually started collecting Social Security for her disability, as it is the path of least resistance.

Some people would question why Susan's livelihood should now become the taxpayer's problem. Most don't, either because they are feminists who might say that she was married to a toad who should have become a prince when he said 'I do,' or because the sheer force of numbers of people receiving handouts in this country is too great to fathom or fuss over one more. Others refuse, on principle, to doubt that welfare does indeed make life better for some people. Besides, it's just not nice to suggest that in choosing whom to commit to, one should take great care and if one should choose poorly, it's not the forced responsibility of taxpayers to pick up the pieces.

I've offered Susan simple, inexpensive solutions to her stress and bitterness. With improvement in her IBS, she could probably find work and support herself. She has rejected them on the basis that they require personal responsibility for one's own happiness. She'd rather just blame her ex-husband and let the faceless masses pay.

Upon examination, is free money really helping her in any arguable way? If handouts were not an option, she would be forced to take responsibility for her own problems. They are not catastrophic.

What is free money teaching her children? 'Do what you want, someone else will pick up the pieces, and you won't even have to say 'thank you.' Life will tailor itself to you!' That message sentences children to a life of hard knocks.

I've come to believe that we create a lot of our own problems. I also believe that if someone is willing to step in and prevent us from experiencing the consequences of poor choices, we will never learn from them. This is the situation with government handouts. I'm not suggesting no one needs help at times, I am saying what government is doing is not only wrong, but unless the goal is dependency, it is not working. Repeatedly, time has shown that private charity, coupled with accountability on the part of the recipient, is the only effective strategy in making long-term improvements in quality of life, provided that change is what the recipient is indeed looking for.

It reminds me of the old joke: How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is only one, but the light bulb has to want to change.

Part of me would like to grab these people by the throat and shake them until their eyes rattle. Unfortunately, there are just too many of them. Aren't we all caught with our foot in a trap? We're all trying to build a life for ourselves with government stacked against us, too big to overcome, too well armed to fight and too rabid to even risk being bitten by. Government is like a vampire sucking the life out of the unsuspecting, and each bite creates one more whoring zombie after another.

'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed'with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.' (from the Declaration of Independence . Read it here.)

We're overdue. Government has become the prying eyes of the omnipotent state, molesting us at every turn in every way possible, leaving a trail of maimed and dead in its wake, while it picks up a head of steam you can see from the Middle East . All together now, can you say 'abolish it?!'

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Retta Fontana's picture
Columns on STR: 53

Retta Fontana is an atheist, anarchist, baker, potter and parenting teacher.  Children are her favorite people.