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A Society on the Dole


A good example of the power of the government dole is found in the reaction of Detroit automakers to President Obama’s demand to raise mileage requirements for automobiles.

According to an article in the New York Times, four years ago the automakers vehemently protested against the opposition of higher fuel-economy standards.

Not so today, however. Today, the auto industry is meekly and submissively going along with the president. In fact, their reaction is even mildly exuberant.

What’s the difference?

The dole! Don’t forget that President Obama “saved” the auto industry by providing it with $80 billion of taxpayer money. These people are grateful. Do you think for a moment they would react negatively to the man who “saved” their businesses?

That’s what the dole does to people. It makes them subservient and grateful to their masters, and it reinforces their role as servants within the welfare state.

As the Times put it,

It is an extraordinary shift in the relationship between the companies and Washington. But a lot has happened in the last four years, notably the $80 billion federal bailout of General Motors, Chrysler and scores of their suppliers, which removed any itch for a politically charged battle from the carmakers…. In the end, though, Detroit was faced with an undeniable political reality: there was no graceful way to say no to an administration that just two years ago came to its aid financially.

It’s really no different with any other dole within the welfare state.

Consider what Social Security, the crown jewel of the welfare state, has done to people. So many Americans are convinced that if Social Security were repealed today, there would be millions of seniors dying in the streets tomorrow. Even worse, millions of seniors remain forever grateful to the government for taking care of them in their waning years.

Or Medicare and Medicaid. People are convinced that without these two programs, countless seniors and poor people would immediately start dying from lack of medical care. They are so thankful that the government is there for them.

It’s no different with farmers, students, corporations, Wall Street investments firms, banks, foreign regimes, and countless other recipients of the dole. It’s just assumed that life would collapse without the dole.

It’s undeniable: the welfare state has horribly damaged people’s belief in freedom and free markets. It has caused them to lose faith in themselves and in others. All too many Americans now look to both Caesar and God for their sustenance. They simply cannot imagine that people would survive and prosper without the welfare state.

Look at what the dole does to people. It silences them, even when they know they’re doing something wrong. They have to show their gratitude for the dole. It would be impolite not to. Also, they might need a new infusion of the dole in the future. No need to jeopardize that possibility by opposing the wishes of the dole provider. Better to show subservience, submissiveness, meekness — and gratitude.

That’s in fact the primary reasons that statist politicians love the welfare-state way of life. No, not because they love the poor, needy, and disadvantaged or even the rich and powerful recipients of the dole but rather because the welfare state provides government officials with the means of softening the citizenry to meekly accept whatever the government does.

Politicians know that the child-adult is no more likely to challenge his dole provider at a fundamental level than a child is likely to do so with his parents. Sure, lots of complaints, whining, and temper tantrums, but never crossing the line that could mean a cut-off of paternal subsistence. They don’t call it the paternalistic state for nothing.

While he was referring to the soft despotism of a government-regulated society, the following quote by de Tocqueville also describes what happens to a society on the dole:

The sovereign, after taking individuals one by one in his powerful hands and kneading them to his liking, reaches out to embrace society as a whole. Over it he spreads a fine mesh of uniform, minute, and complex rules, through which not even the most original minds and most vigorous souls can poke their heads above the crowd. He does not break men’s wills but softens, bends, and guides them. He seldom forces anyone to act but consistently opposes action. He does not destroy things but prevents them from coming into being. Rather than tyrannize, he inhibits, represses, saps, stifles, and stultifies, and in the end he reduces each nation to nothing but a flock of timid and industrious animals, with the government as its shepherd.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.