The welfare state has two clients, not one. One is the designated “victim” receiving hand-outs, and the other is the person making a comfortable living out of distributing the hand-outs. And these last clients are the real reason why these types of laws get made, not the first clients.
Queen’s insight is right on the money. In an ideal soft-socialist regime, there would be only two classes of people: social workers and clients. Needless to say, the former group would absorb a much larger per-capita share of state funding, as would befit their lofty mission.
Oh, and there would also have to be one remaining capitalist — a really, really rich guy — 99.7% of whose filthy lucre would be taxed in order to support the entire system.
I bring all this up because Queen’s comment reminded me of my own brief encounter with a corrupt social welfare system.
Thirty years ago I left a well-paying IT job to move to the countryside and live as a landscape painter. Needless to say, the change of career required that I impoverish myself, and for two decades Dymphna and I scrimped by on next to nothing, sometimes hovering just above the official poverty level.
After a year or two in my new life, the Second Great Oil Crisis arrived. Americans of a certain age will remember those grim times in the summer and fall of 1979, when Jimmy Carter froze oil prices and motorists could only buy gasoline every other day, depending on whether they had an odd or even license plate number. I remember helping a poor guy who was out of gas on his no-buy day and had to get to work. He paid Dymphna for the privilege of siphoning out some gas from her tank, and got a mouthful of gasoline for his troubles when he was getting the siphon started.
That’s what the times were like back then, before Reagan took over and restored some common sense to the country’s economic policies.
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That fall, looking ahead to a winter of limited and high-priced fuel supplies, Congress took pity on the poor and the elderly and enacted the Federal Fuel Assistance program. If you qualified, the federal government (acting through the local county authorities) authorized you to receive fuel for heating your home at a discount rate, or even for free.
At the time we were heating our house with a woodstove, and we bought our wood by the pickup load from a good ol’ boy (I’ll call him Duane) who lived just down the road from us. One day Duane told us that he had signed up as a supplier for the fuel assistance program, and that we ought to apply — he could then deliver our wood at no cost to us.
So I went on down to the Social Services office at the courthouse and filled out the forms. I was totally honest, and recorded all our income and assets accurately. I could see by the accompanying benefits schedule that even with our meager income we didn’t qualify for assistance. Obviously, Duane didn’t know what he was talking about.
Sure enough, a few days later the county sent us a notice, saying that we didn’t qualify for fuel assistance. I called Duane and told him the news, but he said, “Don’t worry — I know the county administrator. I’ll talk to him.”
Another week went by, and the county sent us a second form letter, this time telling us that we qualified for federal fuel assistance after all! We were given a voucher for six loads of firewood for the winter, to be delivered by Duane.
Duane came by the next day and explained the deal to us. By his timely intervention with the county administrator he had enabled us to obtain free firewood, so it was only fair that we split the take with him: we were to receive three loads of oak firewood at no charge.
That’s the way the Federal Fuel Assistance Program worked in our neighborhood.
That tawdry little incident — my only brush, inadvertent or otherwise, with official corruption — was an eye-opener. It made me realize that there are people out there who make a good living by gaming the system, and it helped give me a taste for low taxes and limited government.
When the state takes vast quantities of money from its citizens and redistributes it, the resulting slush pile is a tempting target for shrewd and unscrupulous people. The opportunity is there, and there will always be people ready to take advantage of it.
Federal welfare money is like pure Bolivian cocaine — it gets stepped on so many times by several layers of middlemen that only a small fraction of it remains when the final product is delivered to the people it was intended to reach.
I don’t think Duane was an anomaly. I wasn’t even looking for him, but he found me. He was a microcosm, a miniature example of what goes on at all levels of the government, right up to the high-flyers’ club where a favored campaign contributor gets that plum billion-dollar contract.
Uncle Sam coerces money from you, Joe Citizen, with the threat of arrest and imprisonment if you don’t hand it over. It is then collected together to benefit the “needy”, but before the client receives a penny, the middlemen are lined up with their hands out, ready to get their share.
The real outrage is that most of those grasping hands are receiving their slice of the pie legally. Social workers, administrators, professional grant-writers, legal aid workers, consultants of various stripes — all of them get a share, none of them has to engage in what I call productive labor, and all of it is quite legal.
After my little lesson in socialist economics, I swore off government benefits. I had several opportunities to apply for state fellowships or artists’ grants, but I turned them down.
Every penny I made during those years came from ordinary citizens who parted with their money voluntarily because they liked my paintings.
My choice kept me quite poor, but it was deeply satisfying. I have no regrets.