When people start getting checks from the government, they suddenly see government in a very different light. However they might have felt about transfer payments before, they can find excuses why they’re just fine and dandy, at least in their cases.
People can justify whatever it suits their needs to justify. It’s human nature, and you don’t even know you’re doing it. (You and I do it, too. It’s not just for “welfare queens” or some such silly stereotype.)
Roughly half of U.S. households now have at least one person receiving a check from the federal government, according to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. So what does this mean for the future of the welfare state? I think it’s a pretty safe bet that those people are going to mostly be voting in their self-interest. That means they’re going to vote for candidates who promise to keep the cash coming — even if it’s not morally or fiscally responsible.
The truth is that the welfare state isn’t going away now unless the state goes away entirely. You’re never going to change it through voting.
There’s no such thing as what we used to call “welfare” anymore. You can’t get a check just because you’re poor. But 35 percent of the households get some kind of “means-tested” payment. (See Mercatus Center chart below.) The next largest single category is Medicaid, with 26 percent of households getting some kind of benefits. The ever-popular Ponzi scheme called Social Security goes to 16 percent of households. Food stamps and Medicare benefits each go to 15 percent of households. Various other programs send checks to even more households.
Here’s how I see that affecting voting in the future:
- The vast majority of people in households getting checks will lean more and more in the direction of believing that these payments are proper, so they will always vote for candidates who promise not to cut social programs. (Some small percentage of the individuals in them will vote in libertarian or economically conservative ways out of principle.)
- The people in the half of households getting payments don’t vote in proportions as high as in the part of the population that pays taxes, so it’s not quite as simple as comparing who gets checks and who doesn’t.
- The majority will always believe in some form of transfer payments now, though, because a very substantial percentage of people in non-dependent households favor the payments because of what they consider fairness or compassion or something else.
If you’re one of those who believes in bringing about a libertarian society — or at least a fiscally conservative society — these numbers should be sobering and should make you question your strategy.
For most people, the question isn’t simple and clear-cut. It’s not a matter of splitting people into those who believe in welfare and those who don’t. For the vast majority, their beliefs are in the huge gray area between “yes” and “no.” Some people are going to favor certain types of benefits, but not others. But however they might answer a question for a poll, the more a check from the U.S. treasury affects them, the more predisposed to think that government transfer payments are justified — at least in some cases, which will usually be very much like their cases.
You’re not going to get rid of the welfare state through voting, no matter how many times GOP candidates get applause from enthusiastic audiences. (How much do you want to bet that a substantial portion of the cheering people get payments, too? They’re good fiscal conservatives — about the checks that other people get.)
Getting “free money” on a regular basis is a corrupting thing. Even if you don’t mean to let it affect you, it does. And before you know it, you’re marching and protesting and demanding that the people who are already supporting you give you even more — and you’ll claim it’s “fair” that those productive people give you more.
So does this make you ready to at least consider that maybe you need an alternative other than the election system if you want economic freedom and fiscal sanity in your society?