Budget Cuts and Sad Stories


Few, I imagine, are more aware of the consequences of poverty than I am. Coming here from abroad as a kid and leaving the home of a brutal father, I started off penniless, working as a short order cook and lived at first in what used to be called a ghetto in Cleveland. Slowly I got myself out of this spot, first by working at better jobs, then by enlisting (since the US Army would have conscripted me), and later by going to college at night and eventually full time, while working 30 hours a week as a draftsman and at other jobs all through my undergraduate and graduate studies.

I was no less interested in finding the right mate and beginning a family than are most other people but I clearly had no means for this. Not until I was 40 years old did I finally have the financial base that made it possible to raise a child. This was when I realized that my chosen career had reasonable prospects.

Why do I dwell on all this personal stuff in a column that to be a confessional? Because I need to contrast how some people embark upon family life with how others do, especially given the complaints aired by many young parents in light of the impending budget cuts in California, cuts that will reduce or completely eliminate certain programs that subsidize parenting for millions. Yes, these programs are out and out subsidies to people who shouldn't have embarked on raising children. Some of them, of course, were promptly paraded before us on television news and I was privy to such an offering on the San Jose ABC-TV affiliate. The broadcast featured one young mother nearly in tears about the fact that the support she is getting now from the California government could well be reduced. Another held her baby in her arms while complaining about a similar fate. And the reporter was, naturally, intoning with earnest concern -- learned, no doubt, from Peter Jennings, who is a master at such body and ordinary language -- about how the projected cuts in funding for various programs will harm thousands of children. And governor Schwartzenegger was, of course, featured prominently as the bad guy who is insisting on some measure of fiscal responsibility in California on the backs of these unfortunate parents and children.

No one, as you might expect, said anything at all about why at least some of these parents and children are facing possible dire straits. No one said anything about irresponsible parenting. No one aired even a murmur about how many of these parents embarked upon putting children into the world without serious preparation for taking care of them, expecting simply to just dump the kids on the rest of society. These irresponsible parents do not only engage in out and out malpractice but they have no compunction at all about demanding that government force the rest of us to fund their morally vile conduct.

There are alternatives, of course, including, first, to wait to have kids until one can afford raising them. In cases where such efforts didn't manage to produce sufficient support, the parents could appeal to voluntary charity. That would require, in most cases, admitting that one has acted badly and approaching various organizations with the appropriate contrition and make a frank plea for support of their children. In some cases these parents, if one can call them by that honorable term, should probably give their children up for adoption -- they have proven, after all, by their thoughtlessness, that they are unprepared to be parents. In no case have these parents and their sentimental backers any moral justification for expecting others in the society to be forced to take care of the children the parents alone have brought into the world.

No, no such line of commentary came from anyone, nor did any of the questions reporters posed to the various parties intimate anything along such lines. Instead, it was pretty much taken for granted by all who chimed in that when people who are unprepared nonetheless decide to have children, the state ought to force the rest of us to assume responsibility for them whether or not we choose to do so. In other words, the rest of us, some of whom have chosen not to have children, some who chose to have them with reasonable preparations for bringing them up, are to be forced into involuntary servitude, partial slavery actually, because these so called parents have acted irresponsibly.

I am not concerned here whether the budget cuts are wise or not. I do know, however, that many of the parents who complain have no one to blame but themselves. Yes, there are some who did everything they could and still ended up needing help. They ought to appeal to us to help them, not enlist the government to coerce us to serve them. The others, the irresponsible ones, should admit their irresponsibility and seek help and forgiveness, not demand to be taken care of.

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Tibor R. Machan's picture
Columns on STR: 70

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and recent author of Neither Left Nor Right: Selected Columns (Hoover Institution Press, 2004).  He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.