Social Welfare Programs: Are They Really "Socially Just"?

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October 4, 2006

You'd think I'd be happy now that I've got a secure job and I can quench those bill collectors' ravenous appetites, to say nothing of Uncle Sam's. But there's something on my mind; my inability to pay for health insurance or put away anything for my retirement. And why, you wonder, is this so? It's simple. Social Security is the culprit -- that and Medicare, although the former is the pricier fraud. Let me explain.

I have calculated that the government takes a total of one-fifth of my meager weekly income in taxes. Of that amount, 30 percent goes toward Social Security. That 30 percent could easily pay for the health insurance plan offered by my company, with some left over for putting into retirement savings. Instead, it goes toward paying for someone's else's welfare.

What's left over is enough to cover my rent, bills, and food, but not much more than that...and definitely not health insurance. The story is the same for millions of other young professionals like myself, trying to eke out a living in a difficult economy. In exchange for supporting people 50 years our senior, we are given vain promises from political parasites that we'll get the same support 50 years from now. We currently pay high rents, worry about staggering student loan debt, health insurance costs, and future financial planning in spite of underemployment and low incomes. We go without certain things to foot the bill for 'socially just' welfare programs. In this way, Social Security and other programs like it often help create financial insecurity for those who foot the bill.

Now, health insurance is essential, and it's unfortunate that 46 million Americans have to go without it because it's so artificially pricey [again, thanks to government intervention]. Thus we have welfare programs like Social Security and Medicare, supposedly to help people who can't obtain these sorts of things. However, the programs' real success seems to lie in scoring political points and buying votes.

Question: What about the rest of us who foot the bill?

Social Security is based on the principle of wealth redistribution, in that the funds we are forced to pay into it are re-allocated toward recipients in the here and now. They don't go toward some carefully managed retirement fund that would appreciate in value and deliver large dividends to you in the future. Even if they did, you are more than capable of handling that for your own self, no? Rather, that portion of your income (which is deducted from your paycheck before you even see it) is basically given to someone else who didn't do a thing to earn it -- and who therefore has no legitimate claim to it. It's the same process with Medicare or any other such program.

Let's put it another way. If your neighbor somehow arranged for funds to be sneaked into her bank account from yours because she felt she had a right to them, you'd be justifiably pissed off. But what about instead of a neighbor, this is done by a pack of arrogant, unaccountable thugs calling themselves a government? Your needs matter none; they present complexities and questions that might be too uncomfortable.

Thus, Social Security advocates focus only on the end goal (supposedly the recipient's welfare), almost never on the means by which the goal is achieved (extortion). Worse yet, they go on to justify those unjust means in the name of what they call "social justice." What the hell does that even mean? They know that people naturally have empathy for others, so isn't this just a cheap and easy technique for clouding the issue and evading ethical accountability?

"Oh, but these programs help others in need!" they might squeal in indignation. Yes, when you have billions of dollars re-distributed to others, some people will be helped. Yet all the welfare programs in the world haven't stopped the increasing cost of health care. They haven't made saving for retirement any easier. They haven't eliminated racial disparities in income and job security. Furthermore, inflation-adjusted incomes have stagnated since the late 1960s, when Lyndon Johnson's 'Great Society' programs tried to tackle the problems of poverty that we face today. Social Security certainly hasn't alleviated the job insecurity so many people face in this shaky economy.

Question: What progress do we really have to show for all these programs?

"Okay, maybe they're not perfect'' they might retort, "but it'd be unfair to just get rid of these programs because we have to help the poor!" Yet I slave away to earn a living and pay my bills and in the end I cannot even afford my own health insurance, nor can I even afford to put away money for my own future retirement. But other people can have health insurance and retirement security at my expense! Again, the story is the same for millions of people across the country.

Question: Is this fair? Is this just?

They might counter, "Well, then we don't have to make poor people pay! We'll just make the rich pay because it's their social responsibility to give back to the community!" Well, even if you earn enough so taxes don't pose such a dire problem, the underlying principle remains the same. We're not talking about you voluntarily giving these funds to help people. This is not free charity. Rather, this is a situation of someone forcing you to contribute toward a certain cause you may or may not believe in.

Question: If the end goal is so good, then why aren't you given a choice in the matter?

"Oh, you're so selfish and greedy!" they might accuse me in turn. But in supporting Social Security or any other such program, aren't people basically saying that someone else should be forced to pay for their health care or retirement or welfare, and so on? They reap the benefits, but someone else has to be forced to foot the bill for their utopian endeavors. And that someone might not be very well off to begin with. That someone may be you.

So their philosophy of life goes something like this: I want free health insurance! I want free retirement! I want free transportation! I want free schooling! I want free everything to be free! I want! I want! I want! Gimme! You have to! It's your social responsibility!

Question: does that not make them rather selfish and greedy?

In the end, this is a battle of the ends versus the means. Most people would generally agree that coercion is wrong. So let's be consistent here. Only when people in society have the right to make these kinds of choices for themselves, rather than have these forced upon us, will we have any semblance of fairness. So the best solution to this ethical debacle is to make Social Security completely voluntary or phase it out altogether. Same thing for all other welfare programs. In other words, why not let people decide for themselves what they want to do with their income? Why not let them decide for themselves how (and if) they want to contribute to improving social welfare?

Question: If your goals are noble, but your means are cruel and wrong, then what does that say about the goal you want to achieve? What does that say about your morals? What does that say about the kind of "justice" you aim to bestow on us?

Confront a greedy socialist or political parasite with all this and they will keep repeating their lofty mantra of "common good, social justice, common good'' Hence we return to square one. Like any utopian activist, they take a view of human nature that is fundamentally bad. In their worldview, all people are greedy, nasty sons-of-bitches who wouldn't deign to care about or help anyone in need unless someone forces them to do so. Well, there's another item they might want to consider...

Question: If you really care about the poor, what are you doing in your own life to help them, besides forcing other people contribute to your cause?

At least 70 percent of Americans donate to charity or volunteer on average, according to a 1999 Independent Sector study. And in 2005, Americans gave $260 billion to philanthropic groups. All this is in spite of a recession and a glaring lack of laws forcing them to donate their time, energy, and material wealth. In contrast, the federal government forcibly collects and redistributes $430 billion per year, and you have no individual control over how it is used, how much you contribute, who benefits, and so on.

Consider this too: private charities and philanthropic groups don't forcibly extract their funds from anyone. They work so well because they can adapt their approaches to fit whatever community they serve; to address whatever unique needs that arise. We who volunteer time and effort and cash would get to make choices on how their time and funds are used, and which cause they support. We would be more inclined to choose wisely while not under economic duress from the State. Compare this to a mindless bureaucracy throwing other people's dollars with reckless abandon to any interest group who can buy their way into the trough.

Would it be unreasonable to expect that, given the right to choose (not to mention the income they should be allowed to keep), most Americans would probably give more to help the poor and disadvantaged in their communities, while supporting themselves and their own families at the same time? All of this could be possible without "social welfare" programs like Social Security forcing social engineering upon others in the name of what the power elite call "social justice."

Question: Isn't that a more fair and logical solution? Isn't that more socially just?

Most people don't think to ask these poignant questions. Once these programs are started, they never go away. "All for one and one for all" is the guiding idea here. If you pay into the system, you naturally would demand an entitlement to financial assistance when you fall on hard times. Never mind that others have to suffer the expense too -- everyone pays in, so everyone deserves a share in the end. That's what keeps most of us from coming out swinging against these programs, however much we complain. After a while, we take the system for granted and never question it.

It can be said that we as a society are only as good as the least among us. Is the State an effective or even worthwhile way to address that goal? That is questionable. As for whether the means it uses to reach that purported goal are socially just or fair in themselves, that too is questionable.

The bottom line is this: people and communities care about social issues that touch their lives, but soulless bureaucracies are designed merely to maintain the status quo.

So you tell me, who's better equipped to achieve real social justice?.

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Marcel Votlucka's picture
Columns on STR: 29

 Marcel Votlucka writes from Brooklyn NY.  His work focuses on the connections between psychology, culture, and anti-politics.  Visit his new website at