The Nanny State – Still?

One thing we can admire about Conservatives is their
consistency. They have not let up on their criticism of the Nanny State, the
Takers versus the Makers, since Obama took office. Although the taker-maker
argument lines up with the GOP love affair with small government, I never
remember hearing this piece of bogus wisdom during Bush’s reign, despite the
fact that the safety net was pretty much exactly the same as it is today. It is
true that the recession, still with us since 2009, is ratcheting up the need and
therefore the demand for safety net services. One example is the greatly
increased reliance on food stamps.
I think we have to be very careful to avoid giving what
sounds like a perfectly logical argument too much power. The theory goes that
when you allow the government to take care of the poor, old, disabled, and
sick, when the government provides a safety net to prevent people in a society
from “bottoming out”, the very system that saves people will turn them into
permanent government dependants. We can all agree that there may be some truth
to this. We all know people who we believe are abusing the system. We all know
families whose economic position has not changed in generations and who seem to
be content with government support, even though we know such support comes with
lots of red tape, a loss of privacy, and negative judgment from the rest of
society. It is also clear that government support does not usually provide a
very comfortable or upscale lifestyle.
You must have read some Dickens. Charles Dickens wrote about
London at a time when the poor, sick, and disabled, had little, if any
assistance. Churches sometimes helped but were so moralistic and judgmental
that most of the poor steered clear. Rich ladies often assisted the poor with their
charitable activities, but they also invaded the privacy of those they assisted
and many avoided them to keep a bit of autonomy. Children of poor parents often
lived in the streets, begged, stole, were used by unscrupulous people, were
ill-clothed, ill-fed, ill-treated and unhealthy. Their lives and the lives of
their parents were harsh and short. And their misery had a great effect on the
whole of London. Their misery created health hazards, made the streets dirty
and dangerous, and made some compassionate Londoners sad. In these ways even
the wealthy were affected by the poverty at the lowest economic levels of the
city.
Wealthy people can enjoy their wealth more when there is
less misery and crime among the poorest members of a society. The wealthy, and our
governments which are usually, however democratic, run by the wealthy, have slowly
learned that propping up those at the bottom made life more bearable and
hygienic for everyone. It would be wrong to assume that government programs for
the less fortunate are a totally altruistic endeavor. I don’t think that the
movement to get rid of these programs is founded on an effort to save
unfortunates from themselves, as proponents suggest. Once again, selfish
interests are probably at the bottom of this movement which has come out
of  Conservative America, this movement
whose goals are to help us become more self-sufficient and thereby to make us
proud of our productivity and ingenuity. At this juncture it looks more like
the wealthy are tired of paying taxes that they feel are being used to
subsidize the sloth of people who have learned how to avoid working for a
living. If we were not so divided, we could take a really good look at this
whole issue of the nanny state and we could probably find a lot of savings and
we could find some ways to make sure that aid got to the truly needy. We could
launch a committee to conduct an in-depth study of the social safety net. We
could answer all the nagging questions like:

           ·        Should we do away with the “so-called” nanny
state?

           ·        
Should we do away with all of it, or some of it?
           ·        
What will America be like if we do?
           ·        
Does the safety net encourage malingering and
suppress initiative?
           ·        
What about the children?
           ·        
What about those who are not inspired by
adversity?
           ·        
Can we come up with better ways to sort those
who are truly needy from those
                  who know how to scam the system?

           ·        
What are the advantages and disadvantage of
privatizing?
           ·        
Will privatizing be used to phase out the safety
net?
           ·        
What will we do if we, the people, can no longer
afford safety net programs?
           ·        
Do we have to cut back on compassion?
           ·        
Do we have to give up on the goal of lifting
everyone up?

I must add that there is a liberal version of the nanny
state which shows rich folks and corporations who have become dependent on
favorable government tax rates, tax loopholes and subsidies that the wealthy
would very much like to keep. If we study the bottom for signs of dependency,
we must also study whether those at the top are addicted to the same kind of
aid as those at the bottom.

(There is yet another version of the nanny state which says
that government is passing too many laws that curtail our everyday freedoms,
such as laws about drinking, wearing seat belts, smoking, eating and sugary
drinks, etc. These are the laws that fall in the category of “big brother” laws.
I don’t think these kinds of laws can be attributed to any one political party.
Some may result from our reliance on health insurance, but these nit-picky laws
are presided over by government. This is not the definition of “nanny state”
that I am discussing here, but is a possible topic for another time.)

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