Answering a Challenge on Welfare Politics

So my friend recently posted an anti-welfare meme that stated “5 Truths you CANNOT disagree With”

Challenge accepted

Here are the inarguable “truths” dispelled:

1) you cannot legislate the poor into  prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.

This first “truth” assumes that people are being prosperous on welfare or that paying for welfare presents a particular hardship on tax payers.

The average single welfare recipient gets $200 in food stamps and $300 in other assistance, totaling $500 a month, and the average family of 4 gets $500 in food stamps and $900 in other assistance, totaling $1,400 per month. That comes to $12,000 a year per individual and $16,800 per family.This is not exactly prosperity. This is just barely keeping people alive.

As for the hardship that this creates, the for the American who makes $50,000 per year, pays only about $37 a year in welfare. That slightly more than 10 cents a day.

But of course, if you really want to remove the form of welfare that does create a hardship, then you need to look at corporate welfare that costs the average tax payer $6000 a year.

2)What one person receives without working for another person must work for without receiving

3)The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from someone else

4)You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it

I’m going to tackle all 3 of these at once, because they all ignore the same principles of the economy and same basic findings of social research.

First, the economy is not a zero sum game, it is a dynamic creature that waxes and wanes, grows and shrinks, and otherwise changes in size according to a number of factors. The principle of investment comes from this fact, and investments occur as people are trying to figure out where they can put money in to make it grow. If I am investing in a corporation, I am giving them $1 with the hopes they will give me $1+ in return. That extra money is not stolen away from someone else, it increases because that venture created growth.

Welfare programs actually have the same effect. Food stamps, for instance, have a $1.73 return for every dollar invested. So is money being taken away from the people who work because of welfare? No, it is actually being returned to them with interest. Can you multiply wealth by dividing it? The data clearly says you can.

5)When half the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them; and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because someone else is going to get what they work for, this is the end of a nation.

First of all, this statement wrongly assumes that people on assistance can work but aren’t working. The reality is 18% work, 53% are elderly and too old to work, and 20% are disabled. That accounts for over 90% of welfare cases.

Second, this statement assumes that people are trying to get onto welfare for life. Over half of recipients are off of welfare within 2 years, and over 80% are off within 5 years.  In addition, 58% of all people who receive food stamps end up working within a month, and 80% end up working within a year. In other words, most people are using welfare for what it intends to be used for: temporary assistance. They are not getting the idea in their head that they do not have to work. To the contrary, they are using this so they can start working again.

Third, this statement assumes, more more accurately states without anything to back it up, that these programs are ultimately detrimental to a society. Now there may be a correlation between the need for welfare and the decline of a society, but correlation does not infer causation. In fact, 50 years of social data has shown that the need for welfare and the decline are caused by a third causal variable: wealth inequality. As outlined in Richard Wilkinson’s book The Spirit level, as summarized in his Ted Talk here, or in the full presentation here, Wealth Inequality is the causal variable in the increase in homicide, imprisonment, mental illness, teen aged pregnancy etc, as well as decreases in life expectancy, math and literacy, and economic/social mobility.

Now take a look at that last variable: economic/social mobility. The data shows that the greater the wealth inequality, the less likely you are to actually increase in social and economic class.

The problems seen as a result of income inequality affect all levels of that society. Lifespan is lower in nations with more wealth inequality, and that lowered lifespan is seen in the wealthy of that society as well as the poor in that society. So not taking care of the poor and reducing this wealth inequality is what actually harms the society, and harms all levels of that society.

Now, it needs to be noted that wealth inequality can be fixed in one of two ways, either voluntarily, as done in Japan where wages structures directly paid by the businesses themselves are such that the gap between is not allowed to be too great because of the business ethic, or through redistribution via assistance programs, as done by Sweden. The data shows that either of those two methods produces the same effect, that whether the income inequality is reduced by paying more to the lowest paid workers (like by increasing the minimum wage) or by increasing welfare programs, social problems decrease, and the society is strengthened overall.

So all 5 of those “truths” are categorically false. There is no data to justify them, they are only statements that “feel true” largely because they serve to reinforce assumptions. They are opinions that people strongly hold for one reason or another, but that does not in any way make them “true.” And, as shown above, the data, the reliable and observable facts that can be checked and verify, contradict each one of those truths. What the evidence does show is that not ending wealth inequality, not taking care of the poor, is what leads to the end of a nation.

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2 thoughts on “Answering a Challenge on Welfare Politics

  1. Pingback: Answering a Challenge on Welfare Politics | MemePosts

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