Right On: Is money really the cure-all for social ills?

Stock image, St. George News

OPINION — When will they learn? Liberals tout kindness as the cure for society’s ills. But experience shows that spending evermore money isn’t kindness at all: it actually incubates and perpetuates these ills.

Take 2015, for example. Our federal government spent $2.579 trillion on social services, including health, Social Security, Medicare, education and more. To this total, add over $100 billion in student loans which don’t appear in the budget since they are counted as loans, not expenditures.

This amounts to about $8,340 per American, up over 277 percent since 1977. Yet during this entire time, liberals have insisted that it wasn’t enough and wasn’t growing fast enough.

How did we get here? How did we evolve from the limited government envisioned by our Founding Fathers to a government that must address every grievance, every problem?

Author and senior editor of the Claremont Review of Books, William Voegli, noted the inclination of liberals to justify social programs with a “kindness” rationale. In a 2014 article published by Hillsdale College, he cited public radio host Garrison Keillor’s explanation, “I am a liberal and liberalism is the politics of kindness,” followed by then President Barack Obama’s declaration, “Kindness covers all my political beliefs.”

Empathetic kindness is what Obama said “binds us together,” Voegli said. And by believing in their own kindness, liberals see conservatives as heartless, cruel and greedy.

For the most part, conservatives have been unable to respond effectively to these accusations. Who can oppose kindness and compassion? Surely kindness requires ever-expanding social services spending.

Republican Mitch Daniels, former governor of Indiana, provided an interesting rejoinder in 2009. He argued that “measured provable performance and effective spending” ought to be a “completely philosophically neutral objective.”

Daniels went on to tell his liberal friends, “You ought to be the most offended of anybody if a dollar that could help a poor person is being squandered in some way.”

But liberals are not so troubled when their social service programs are not performing well. For example, despite huge increases in per capita spending, poverty rates since the 1960s are essentially unchanged. VA hospitals, once touted as models for single payer health care, have become poster children for government incompetence and waste. Public schools in minority neighborhoods continue to underperform charter schools serving the same demographic. The list goes on.

Instead of liberal outrage at wasted social welfare spending, we get calls for even more spending. Liberals consistently believe that if a program isn’t working well, it’s because we’re not spending enough money on it.

Washington Post liberal columnist E.J. Dionne wrote, “There’s a lesson here that liberals apparently need to learn over and over: Good intentions without proper administration can undermine even the most noble of goals.”

If liberals need to learn something so basic over and over, it suggests a fundamental problem, something worse than careless or inept administration of their programs.

Liberals think it’s more important to “address” a problem than it is to accomplish something. Once they vote for, give a speech about, write an editorial endorsing or talk at a social function about the importance of some program, their work is done. They can feel good about themselves and go on to the next one.

There’s no need to stick around for the complex, frustrating, mundane work of making sure the program that made them feel better has actually improved outcomes.

Many government programs initiated to conquer a problem end up, instead, perpetuating it. “Helping professionals” frequently acquire a vested interest in studying and managing a problem day-to-day, never stepping back to see if they are actually solving it.

Liberals certainly intend their programs to do well and hope for the best. But whether a problem is solved or whether most beneficiaries’ condition is improved is secondary to liberals’ self-esteem, a topic I addressed in last week’s column.

Barbara Oakley describes pathological altruism as “indifference to the fact and consequences of failures, just as long as the empathizer is accruing compassion points that he and others will admire.” She writes that “what we value so much, the altruistic ‘good’ side of human nature, can also have a dark side that we ignore at our peril.”

Examples of liberals’ pathological altruism abound.

Liberal advocates lack a basic understanding of how to overcome poverty. In the 50 years since the war on poverty was declared, U.S. taxpayers have spent over $22 trillion on anti-poverty programs, not including Social Security or Medicare. Adjusted for inflation, this spending is three times the cost of all U.S. military wars since the American Revolution.

Yet progress against poverty, as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau, has been minimal. Despite this glaring lack of Mitch Daniel’s “measured provable performance and effective spending,” verbally supporting this cause is enough for liberals to feel they have “addressed” the problem.

Losing the war on poverty, liberals’ latest economic priority is reducing income inequality. This economic policy is embodied in Obama’s words, “Let’s spread the wealth around.”

Democrats have never learned that the best welfare program is a growing economy. For them, “spreading it around” takes precedence over economic progress.

Democrats raise taxes whenever possible to expand entitlements and transfer payments, intending to help the truly needy. But perversely, this form of “kindness” lures large numbers of able-bodied Americans out of the work force.

Throughout Obama’s entire eight-year administration, the underemployment rate (U6) remained above every Bush administration year. U6 includes the traditional unemployment rate (U3) plus part time workers who would like full time employment plus those so discouraged by Obama’s economy that they gave up looking. Our labor participation rate is the lowest since 1978 when women were entering the workforce in numbers.

At least 19 different times, Obama claimed he was “pivoting to jobs.” But these were head fakes and he never did, returning instead to redistributing wealth.

Skyrocketing dubious disability claims during the Great Recession, aided and abetted by cooperative doctors, are yet another example of the “kindness” cure being worse than the disease. Most of us don’t oppose government disability benefits, but we have every reason to expect “measured provable performance and effective spending.”

During a federal debt ceiling crisis, Obama expressed frustration with Republicans. His underreported complaint illustrates the liberal mindset:

Why are we still dealing with the debt ceiling? We should be starting new programs.

New programs are the lifeblood of the politics of kindness. Who has time to fix the old ones?

• • •

Howard Sierer is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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  • comments March 23, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    Blah blah blah liberals done blah blah. “Conservatives” believe in what? Gigantic, corrupt, and wasteful spending of trillions on militarism? Giant bailouts for corrupt wallstreet “too big to fail” banks? Super low tax rates for hedgefunders and wallstreeters? Concentration of the nations wealth in the hands of those that need it the least?

    There is waste, corruption, greed, laziness, incompetence, cronyism within both political parties (or ideologies), but of course in Howard’s mind it’s “OMG, IT’S ALL THE LIBRULS. THE CONSERVATIVES ARE AS INNOCENT AS THE FRESHLY FALLEN VIRGIN SNOW”. Howard, is anything and everything the fault of “libruls”? In your little brain are conservatives really innocent of everything? Please enlighten us some more, oh wise one.

  • utahdiablo March 23, 2017 at 8:36 pm

    Cut all welfare for any able bodied person and put them to work… you want to eat?, your going to work, you want a roof over your head? your going to work….build houses, pick fruit, work the fields, whatever it takes, but welfare on our already 20 Trillion debt? Nope

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