Government welfare and moral excellence

The great demographer Nicholas Eberstadt recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal about the dramatic explosion in the receipt of government welfare. His concluding paragraphs:

The prospect of careening along an unsustainable economic road is deeply disturbing. But another possibility is even more frightening — namely, that the present course may in fact be sustainable for far longer than most people today might imagine.

The U.S. is a very wealthy society. If it so chooses, it has vast resources to squander. And internationally, the dollar is still the world’s reserve currency; there remains great scope for financial abuse of that privilege.

Such devices might well postpone the day of fiscal judgment: not so the day of reckoning for American character, which may be sacrificed long before the credibility of the U.S. economy. Some would argue that it is an asset already wasting away before our very eyes.

In a time of uncertainty, people understandably seek for security. Increasingly, it is sought by reliance on government munificence. That quest for security however, can easily become a repudiation of responsibility.

Professor Scott Fitzgibbon has written: “An excellent person recognizes more things as morally binding than ordinary people might do, but a debased person, it appears, will acknowledge fewer.” In other words, moral excellence relies in part on the willingness to discharge duties.

What does this have to do with government welfare programs? The risk of such programs is that they rob people of motivation and even opportunity to carry out moral duties such as self-providence, care of family members, service to the poor and needy, etc.

At an extreme, government may even try to provide not only tangible goods but such intangibles as “dignity.”  Doing so threatens basic civility, because it is then seen to be owed to a person not because of common humanity but because of membership in government-recognized groupings.

At the Republican National Convention, a debt clock was prominently displayed to show the amount of debt the United States incurred during the time of the convention. We don’t yet have a measure of the character deficit we are beginning to incur, but we ought to take action to reduce it without delay.

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  • Maggie

    Excellent ! As a Christian I believe in caring and helping those in real need either temporarily or long term when called for. I do not believe in diminishing God given talents by taking away the the gifts and strengths most of us are born with. When governments,parents ,etc insist on caring for able bodied people ,you take away their abilities to become successful using their own uniqueness. Think of a world whereby none of our great artists or leaders had reason to work towards presenting their individual gifts to us to appreciate .
    This county has been a beacon and a haven for allowing people to accomplish this. How sad many now want to prevent others this same opportunity which they received.