Central to the idea of a welfare state is the notion of the “safety net.” The idea is that a free society is much like walking the high wire. Highwire walkers sometimes fall, hit the ground, and die, but not if they have a safety net. If they fall, they fall into the safety net and live another day.
The free society, it is said, operates much the same way. People fall onto hard times, are unable to pay their bills, and die of starvation. A welfare-state safety net, it is argued, ensures that they survive and live another day.
The safety-net argument, however, is fallacious, both from a moral standpoint and a practical standpoint.
First of all, what is a genuinely free society? One of the many prerequisites for a free society is that everyone has the right to keep everything he earns and decide for himself what to do with his own money. To the extent that the government forces a person to be good and caring to another person, freedom is destroyed. Genuine freedom leaves that choice up to each individual.
Let’s assume that the government enacts a tax law requiring everyone to pay a 99 percent tax on his income. Whatever a person earns at work, he gets to keep 1 percent of it. The government uses the 99 percent to fund its safety-net programs for the poor, needy, and disadvantaged.
Before long, it is inevitable that people are going to see that they are nothing more than slaves. Sure, a slave is forced to work 100 percent for others. But the fact that people in our example are being forced to work 99 percent of the time is almost the same.
The principle is the same, however, if the government sets the percentage that people are permitted to retain at, say, 75 percent. The fact that they are being forced to work 25 percent of their lives for others is still evidence of slavery, albeit at a reduced extent.
Who enforces the government’s tax law? The IRS, one of the most tyrannical and feared agencies in U.S. history. The IRS has been given the authority to ignore the Fifth Amendment, which states that the federal government is prohibited from taking money from people without due process of law, a term that consists of notice and hearing. The IRS is employed to levy attachments, garnishments, liens, and other devices without going through due process procedures. Its procedures are the characteristic of a tyrannical regime.
At the core of the safety-net position is that freedom doesn’t work. That is, a free people, they say, cannot be trusted to help other people who are desperately in need . Children and grandchildren will turn their backs on their parents and grandparents. Church groups will not assist those who are desperately poor and starving to death. The same for community groups. And the wealthy and middle class. And all the charitable foundations. And doctors and other healthcare providers. And hospitals.
They are all just a bunch of mean-spirited, selfish, self-centered people who cannot be counted on the help others who are desperately in need of help. Freedom just doesn’t work. We need the government, which, ironically, is put into office by the majority of voters, to come to the aid of the poor by enacting laws that force people to help out others. Voila! The safety net!
Notice something important about the safety net: It is enforced by a tyrannical and brutal taxing agency that everyone is scared to death of. Moreover, a vast and extremely large bureaucracy to distribute the money has to come into existence. Thus, the total amount of the money that is extracted from people doesn’t actually to those in need. That’s because some of it is used to pay the enormous salaries and other bureaucratic expenses of those who are forcibly collecting the money and distributing the loot.
One of the big problems we libertarians face in achieving the genuinely free society is a self-esteem problem. Many younger people (i.e., younger than 50 years old) have been inculcated with mindsets that say, “They are right–I really am a bad person. I would never help my parents or grandparents when they hit hard times later in life. I would never donate to a person who has cancer and no money, not even if I no longer had to pay income taxes or FICA taxes. I need to be forced to be good and caring. Thank God for the IRS and the federal welfare bureaucracies because they make me a good and caring person.”
When enough people are able to break through that psychological barrier and demand to be entrusted with freedom and become convinced that freedom really does work, the welfare-state safety net that has contributed to the destruction of American liberty will come crashing down. That will constitute a major step toward achieving a free and moral society.