Freddy the Freeloader

There are two things that I hear consistently from people who oppose the liberal position on social spending:  “It’s MY money,” and, “I don’t want my hard earned money being spent on people who want to live off handouts!”

Apparently, they feel that many of the poor are that way because they haven’t been threatened enough to stop being poor.

First of all, it should be understood that our current tax rates are relatively low, especially when you consider our Gross Domestic Product.  Taxes at all levels of government claim around 28 percent of GDP, compared with an average of 36 percent of GDP for the 30 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Next consider the truth about those “freeloaders.”  If you take Medicare and Social Security out of the debate (those are a different arguments) and just focus on the “social services” commonly called “entitlement” programs, you’ll find a very small percentage (between 1 and 2%) abusing the system according to US Dept. of Labor statistics regarding UI programs.

“The myth of the Cadillac-driving welfare queen who defrauds the system lingers even though there’s no proof of it”, said Erin O’Brien, a poverty expert at the University of Massachusetts.  Accurate sources are hard to find, but of the over 95,000 welfare recipients in Philadelphia, for example (a metropolitan area over 4 million with one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates), fraud is less than 2% according to the District Attorney’s Office.

In other words the vast majority of people using welfare initiatives are going back into the tax base and contributing; a very small amount of our taxes are being “wasted” on entitlements.  That’s not to say that we shouldn’t correct abuse, but in terms of the personal anger I hear at being “robbed”, please reconsider the actual sacrifice you’re making.

Most people (other than Ron Paul supporters) understand the need to pay taxes to some extent. Most people understand the need for a strong military, for roads, hospitals and schools (infrastructure) and that government is the administrator of such things.

Where people come unglued is…all the other stuff.

Yet, I hear people (right and left) complain:  “Where is our money for flood recovery, the hurricane, the tornado?  Why is influenza spreading?  Why were oil platforms faulty? Why was the lunch meat bad at the high school?  Why did the plane go down?  Who’s going to stop the factory from polluting my town?”

Neo-cons and Libertarians will argue that the most effective way to handle these issues is to put more trust in the private sector, but that is painfully idealistic and shortsighted.  The private sector will spend where they wish and they won’t where they don’t.  Better off neighborhoods would be maintained and receive services while poor ones would suffer, spreading the scope of poverty like pestilence.

I’ve also heard many times, “If I kept my money, I would be more generous to those charities that do the work that needs to be done.”

Are you sure?  Studies show that generosity doesn’t increase with wealth.  A study in the New York Times ( http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/magazine/22FOB-wwln-t.html?_r=1 ) reveals that wealthy people give a smaller percentage than the poor to charity.  And who in this private sector driven world will decide who gets what?  I can promise you that we’ll see the sick Gerber babies get plenty of help, but what about the babies of crack addicted mothers?  Who distributes the contributions so that help is generous and fair?  (See my article “The Shadow of Our Burden” http://www.garyhasissues.com/?p=4572 for more details).

“It’s MY money!”

Is it?  We get compensation for providing a product or a service; that’s the capitalist model.  Currency only realizes it’s value when we put it back into the system.  But who really owns money?  I owe everything I make to someone or another so when exactly is it mine?  When I do get ahead, I invest it so that someone else can capitalize on it.  The bank uses what I put in it and I’m pretty sure that when it’s lent elsewhere, someone else is laying claim to MY money.

If “capitalism” is our home, then money is the log on the fire to keep our house warm; and if we want to keep the fire burning we have to keep putting logs into the flame. I’m being a bit pedestrian here, but I always snicker a little when I hear “It’s MY money.”

“I EARNED my money!”

Maybe.  For sure, if you’re a coal miner.  I’ll never forget what my father told me when I made a pretty good check at Saturday Night Live.   I made more in one year than he did in 4 and he put his arm around me and said, “I’m happy for you, son. You made that much money.  But don’t ever tell me that you EARNED that much.”

He didn’t have to explain, I got his point very clearly.

Those of us who are employed, healthy, and are surrounded by friends and family, should fall to our knees (in my humble opinion) and thank God (or to whomever you pray) that we live in a free society, have opportunity, pay relatively low taxes, have a system of government predicated on freedom of speech (and tolerance) and have the services and protections that we have to pursue Life, Liberty and Happiness.

And when the government we elect shows compassion and offers sustenance to those who have fallen through the cracks, that is the realization of the promise of freedom….and it might cost you a penny or two out of every dollar you earn

Sounds like a fair bargain to me.

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