Voices across the political spectrum question dependency culture

Nicholas D. Kristof (Photo: World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland)

In The New York Times, columnist Nicholas D. Kristof makes an uncomfortable point:

This is painful for a liberal to admit, but conservatives have a point when they suggest that America’s safety net can sometimes entangle people in a soul-crushing dependency. Our poverty programs do rescue many people, but other times they backfire.

Mr. Kristof notes that part of the problem is the anti-marriage incentives in welfare programs:

Antipoverty programs also discourage marriage: In a means-tested program like S.S.I., a woman raising a child may receive a bigger check if she refrains from marrying that hard-working guy she likes. Yet marriage is one of the best forces to blunt poverty. In married couple households only one child in 10 grows up in poverty, while almost half do in single-mother households.

The column is heartbreaking.

In an extended comment on the Kristof piece, the excellent David French makes a compelling argument through a story that concludes:

Now, it’s true that at any point Rob could have taken concrete actions to change his path — and he bears moral responsibility for his failure to act — but it’s also true that our government has relentlessly incentivized every step of his deterioration, all in the name of compassion. Even worse, by providing such generous benefits with no meaningful strings attached, we’ve also essentially immunized him against the kind of assistance that he truly needs — the “tough love” that demands that a man do what he can to help himself through productive work.

The result? Another statistic. Another father who is no longer a role model for his children. Another sadly shortened lifetime’s worth of money (some borrowed from China) paid to sustain a lifestyle not good enough to enjoy and not tough enough to leave.

It’s a national tragedy of our own making.

We can’t even say we weren’t warned, since Alexis de Tocqueville predicted something like this in the 1830s.

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