11 September, 2011

The problem with welfare

The first problem with welfare, is that there are WAY too many things wrong with the system we actually call welfare.

I am not going to list them all out, even though I know that many of you totally disagree with some of my list. But I'm going to cover it a little bit, because some guy on CNN has given me the platform I want to start speaking from.

Just for the record, in my opinion, the first real problem with welfare is that it should be called Poverty Prevention.

And the second real problem is that some of the other social support mechanisms offered by the government are called tax breaks, or some other silly name, and not welfare.

Douglas Rushkoff, www.cnn.com
Our problem is not that we don't have enough stuff -- it's that we don't have enough ways for people to work and prove that they...

This guy's position is that we are all going to be very creative in the future, and magically, there will be enough food and energy and water and other infrastructure, and it could work.

He actually suggests that we should accept that food and shelter should be basic human rights. And I agree with him in principle, if not in fact.

Food and shelter (or the small amount of spending money needed to GET these things) are not human rights. They should be a benefit of a wealthy civilization. To EVERYBODY in that civilization, in EQUAL proportions.

Right now some people get welfare, and hardly anybody respects them. But what if we canceled all tax breaks, and split up that money too, so every man, women, and child living in our civilization gets an equal share?

[Please note I have not mentioned citizens, just residents, or as I think of them: people. Citizenship is a murky concept of intentions and welcome. I don't like debating who deserves the benefits of citizenship in our civilized society. The preamble of the constitution of the US, which I am very proud of, does not mention citizens, just people. I firmly believe this was an absolutely intentional choice, and it literally gives me goosebumps.]

There is already a system in place to deal with people who have trouble with paying the rent. Multiple systems. Including almost everything that gets labeled Welfare. I don't think this problem will go away with universal poverty prevention dividends, so it's not like I'm suggesting we need to slash even more government jobs. Or other jobs.

If you accept this simple plan, you must then, ethically, ask who is going to pay for it. And why would they?

Why would they support "the rest of us"? Why are we supporting anybody? My theory is that we would like to witness fewer of the evils of poverty, like little kids and old people with no food, clothing, and shelter.

Social Security started as simple poverty prevention, and it has grown to become a state-sponsored retirement and disability plan as well. It should really be one or the other, but maybe if we get Poverty Prevention Dividends separately, the retirement-investment aspect of Social Security can actually be handled, oh, say, privately. Or Publicly! I'm a big fan of the government.

And also I think we would like to suffer fewer of the other evils of poverty. Like the intersection of envy and desperation. Some crime. And kidnapping. 

I think a lot of resentment towards Welfare programs and the people on it would, literally, melt away. If we called it Poverty Prevention and handed it out to everybody.

I have never liked the fact that the people on welfare pretty much have to be willing to declare themselves incompetent at the job of life. Especially since I have so much in common with them!

Furthermore, we could probably not worry too much about child support anymore. I'm sure there are some fathers who would just be relieved if child support enforcement orders were canceled, but I bet MORE would be willing to give MORE money to their actual child, directly, in goods and services.

Having to literally hand it over to a woman who either did you wrong OR left you in the dust, well that just is never going to be a very tasty dish. Many divorces are much more complicated, of course. And this does not even address child support payments men are asked to give to women they were never interested in marrying. Which is different problem, and I digress.

I have digressed from the subject of how we pay for it! Not just an ethical question, but a very practical one.

First, cancel all social-support tax breaks. We're taking those taxes back, and paying a little bit of it to everybody. You'll get your share, honest. Maybe more, maybe less! I'm not going to do the math, because I have NO idea how much money ends up in the pot, nor any real idea of how many people are eligible.

Spend it however you like. Buy a house. Put your kid through college. Pay for daycare. It is more important to me that everyone have this specific benefit from living in a great civilization, than people who rise above all the other stuff and pay for it all get special consideration in tax break form.

So that's some new money to spend. I have no idea how much.

We also have Welfare and SSI money, that can go into the pot. Maybe there are other tax breaks that are unnecessary too! I presume so, but I don't know much about tax breaks for, say, mega-corporations.

Frankly, some corporate profits seem like a shady tax shelter for extremely wealthy individuals who should be owning up to 'earning' all that money. Fees and Fines are what corporations should have to pay, not 'taxes'. (I understand this is a somewhat trivial distinction. What I mean by 'taxes' is usually income tax--the individual's willingness to contribute to the public good.)

A corporation is a marvelous organizational tool for getting stuff done, and I totally love a lot of business and almost all that it does! There's a lot of negativity about the dangerous errors people seem more prone to making as part of a 'corporation'. I sympathize, but that is a separate problem, and corporations are not all alike.

I must digress to criticize the Zeitgeist Movement. It is mean of me to do so, especially since they have pretty much the same goal as I do, poverty prevention wise. And I take the risk of doing so in ignorance, because I have read very little of their mission statement. Because I had trouble finding it. Maybe there wasn't one at the time, a month and a half ago.

I tried to watch a couple of the stirring videos, but I am sometimes a very impatient person and when a minute and a half of "aren't we on to something cool" enthusiasm is shown before we get down to the nitty gritty, well let's just say I start looking somewhere else.

I was a little suspicious from the get go, as at the time their front page had a 'specialist' registry for possible contributors. Like scientists. Because they are completely free of bias. My ass.

(No offense intended! I love scientists! And I am thrilled by the popularity of the Zeitgeist Movement. Just not, you know, the actual 'plan'.)

Finally I got to one video that started out by showing what we want. The world of tomorrow is so advanced and yay and free! Helicopters! Swimming Pools! No one has to work!

Then it goes on to criticize government, business, and money. Three of my most favorite things! If it just decided to criticize fraud instead, I would have probably been sold.

But the theory that we as people can design machines that will take care of themselves and us, and we can all give up all our competitive material struggles, well that's a little far out for me.

I like the idea of the machines that make competitive 'self support' work meaningless, don't get me wrong! But we already have those machines. And we are, in my opinion, naturally competitive. If it's not material things, it will shift to something else. Maybe art like the guy at CNN suggests.

'Needing' to work to support yourself doesn't build many great bridges. Dreaming of a better future for yourself and all mankind, that's the competitive spirit I love.

At any rate, I've revealed the social support plan of the future! And some ways to pay for it. I don't know how much the check for every person enrolled comes out to. I'd bet that most people wouldn't want to live on it. And some people would have difficulties. And that MOST people will celebrate their tax refund every month.

Because most people would prefer to work and pay taxes and contribute to society.

I also advise that we include, with the payment, the suggestion that people contribute to society in some way. But I definitely do not believe we should specify how. Work is, of course, the traditional way, but paid or unpaid, community service or feelthy rich industrialism or meditation on the good of all mankind, I don't think we should try and keep track of it.

Now that I've solved all the evils of poverty using some of the benefits of civilization, let me just say that this idea is completely unoriginal.

I have enthusiastically ripped off Spider Robinson and Robert Heinlein, and their book, For Us The Living. And I didn't even tell you some of the other best parts about this idea in that book!

Like an ethical justification for expecting some people (taxpayers) to support all people, to some degree or other. It's even one of my very favorite things ever!

I can't, unfortunately, enthusiastically recommend the book to everyone reading this modest proposal.

Partly because the authors promote something a whole lot of people find very offensive. I've been reading whacked-out utopian fantasy, Heinlein, and Robinson for probably over 20 years (at least 15 on Robinson, anyway). Nothing in it, except for this poverty prevention plan, was new to me.

And it should come as no surprise to anyone that some people want to kiss more than one person for the rest of their life.

If you like utopian fiction, it is a must-read.

I do recommend it to any economists who want to argue with poverty prevention dividends. Some of the arguments in the book were economic theory. I didn't follow them, and didn't, hopefully, use any of them to buttress my own plan. And I do not want to argue economic philosophy on a professional level. I am an amateur.

But other than those exceptions, I mostly can't recommend it universally because the book doesn't explore the problem of fraud in any detail. It's a problem. If we cancel "welfare" and some tax breaks, does anybody deserve two poverty prevention checks? No. And taxes are not currently optional, but do we admire the people dodging taxes? Unfortunately, sometimes, we apparently do. And I digress.

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