Paraphrasing what I said in today’s Three Martini Lunch . . .
America is a compassionate nation, and we want to help those who need assistance. We take care of our veterans. We take care of the elderly through Social Security and Medicare. We take care of the very poor and the disabled through Medicaid.
(This is all separate from private efforts to help the less fortunate. By one measure, Americans are the most charitable people in the world. Americans gave a total of nearly $347 billion to charity in 2011.)
But help from the government is only supposed to be used when it’s needed, and one of the ways we can ensure that the resources are there to help everyone who needs them is to discourage people from using public assistance unless it’s clearly needed.
You’re not supposed to want to be on food stamps, and you’re not supposed to use them if you don’t need them. When you’re on them, you’re expected to make an effort to reach a point where you don’t need them anymore.
You’re not supposed to collect unemployment if you’re healthy and capable of working in a job — even if that job is one you don’t like.
You should attempt to move out of public housing as soon as you are able.
The role of the government in this country is not to pay for your utility bill, or your cell-phone bill, or to hand out “stimulus checks” in exchange for your personal financial information. If you are so poorly informed as to believe that the government’s role is to do such things, some people may not be so sympathetic when you are the victim of some unscrupulous scam.
Mind you, the definition of “public assistance” or “government assistance” can get pretty broad.
If you run your company into the ground, you’re not supposed to come to Washington and say, “We need a bailout.” If the government does bail you out to the tune of $170 billion, you have to treat that money like it’s water in the desert, precious and not easily replaced. You can’t just spend $218 million, willy-nilly, on bonuses.
You’re not supposed to ensure your company’s fiscal health through earmarks put into legislation by a congressman you support financially.
If the government steps in and guarantees a $535 million loan to your solar-panel company, you had better move heaven and earth to make sure you don’t default on that loan — not formulate “a plan here to getting a solid return out of Solyndra for ourselves (and our friends and family shares alongside us).“
Again, there is no shame or crime in hitting rough patches in life and needing help. But a big reason some assistance programs have a stigma is because of frauds and those who abuse programs like these.
Americans love helping the less fortunate, but they really hate feeling like a sucker. They hate feeling like they’re losing ground by playing by the rules, and watching others escape consequence for reckless or bad decisions — a phenomenon Glenn Reynolds describes as “the coming middle class anarchy.”