Wednesday, January 23, 2019
LOWMAN S. HENRY: Cycle of Dependency
The headline blared from the Sunday opinion page: Where's Washington's Heart? Rather than being an editorial on helping to lift people out of poverty it was instead - predictably - a robust and deeply flawed defense of government social welfare programs.
Decades after President Lyndon Johnson declared a "war on poverty" that turned out to be a massive expansion of government dependency programs, and after the expenditure of trillions of taxpayer dollars on those programs, the needle on poverty has barely moved.
What has changed is the number of Americans trapped on the government dole. The Left believes this is a good thing - government is assisting more people. And while helping people who truly need assistance is a shared goal across the political spectrum, conservatives want to take that one step further and return as many people as possible to self-sufficiency.
The term "cycle of dependency" is used by social scientists to describe how addiction to government aid gets handed down from one generation to the next. But, there is another "cycle of dependency" that explains the Left's fixation with growing the number of people receiving public assistance.
Here is how it works: more people dependent on government creates more voters will support those candidates pledging to preserve and expand their benefits; this results in the election/re-election of Left-leaning candidates who then work to increase the number of people dependent on such programs, repeat, repeat and repeat.
Attempt to break this cycle and the Left will attack saying you lack compassion, or as the headline put it "heart." This too is a favorite, and highly effective, tactic of the Left. Big government advocates are exceptionally good at messaging. They can take any government program, regardless of how ineffective or inefficient it might be, and make it sound like mom and apple pie. For example the "Affordable Care Act" made health care less available and more expensive; illegal immigrants become "dreamers" and the murdering of babies in the womb becomes "reproductive rights."
What triggered the editorial screed, augmented by the sub-headline "When it comes to helping hunger Americans, we have lost our humanity," was a move by the Trump Administration to allow states greater flexibility in moving people off the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, and into self-sufficiency.
You would think helping Americans become more self-sufficient and thus not needing government assistance would be an obvious goal. But, it would break the Left's electoral cycle of dependency so crank up the propaganda machine and declare such efforts to be heartless.
But are they heartless?
The Trump Administration's goal is to foster the movement of able-bodied adults without dependent children from dependency into the work place. A similar effort in Pennsylvania passed the General Assembly last year, but fell victim to a veto by Governor Wolf who saw the threat to his electoral coalition.
Opposition to this policy is the opposite of heartless; it restores human dignity. Nobody is proposing that children go unfed; or those with physical or mental disabilities are denied SNAP benefits. The goal is for those able to work, and for whom jobs are available, to do so.
This is, as conservative author Arthur Brooks termed it, the "conservative heart": Provide equality of opportunity through educational reforms such as expanded school choice and job training programs. Foster a pro-growth economy that makes available good, family sustaining jobs. This approach will break the classic cycle of dependency and move those who are able from being dependent on government to helping government through their tax dollars funding programs for those in actual need.
In fact, advocacy for the continued trapping of able-bodied, able-minded individuals on government assistance is what is truly heartless. Doing so with an ulterior political motive is not only heartless, but downright mean. It is time we stopped falling for the Left's spin and put into place those policies that restore more people to the dignity of self-sufficiency.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)