08-12-12, 01:28 AM #1
Welfare in the United States
I was listening to a pretty interesting discussion regarding the book: Hamilton's Curse: How Jefferson's Arch Enemy Betrayed the American Revolution--and What It Means for Americans Today.
If you don't know much about Hamilton you may want to: He's one of the founding fathers and served Washington as his Secretary of the Treasury. When the US Constitution was being debated, early on in the convention he gave a five hour long speech at the conclusion of which not a single of the other founding fathers would support (not a single one - imagine that). He was very unhappy with the reception and returned to New York. What were some of his ideas? Well, he proposed the President should be for Life (no one supported that). He also thought the elected Senators should serve for life as long as they weren't removed for corruption or abuse. James Madison actually thought he was a monarchist and Thomas Jefferson opposed him on many grounds. Hamilton helped start the first national bank, apparently caused massive inflation and ended up gloating Washington into taking the army out and murdering US Citizens (Whiskey rebellion) because tax money was needed to backstop banknotes. How ironic, given the Revolutionary War had just ended over similar taxes. Washington later regretted it. Apparently he also wanted the US federal bank to back war bonds at 100% which his friends had purchased at 15 cents on the dollar. Anyway, Hamilton was a proponent of general welfare while at the very same time he didn't like the 'new attitude' of Americans as it seemed to him that as they were gaining more wealth they were working less than he thought they should. Kind of becoming sloth. So, he thought putting pressure onto the public through monetary inflation was "good" for us little people. You know, keep us a bit poorer than we'd otherwise happily be ... for our own good so that we'd continue to work hard.
Kind of crazy.
There was a lot of debate over welfare for the 'common good'.
Jefferson and Madison fell squarely on the NO the US government can not morally take from some people to give to others. To give you an idea of how strongly Madison felt about this, Federal moneys was requested to pay for the welbeing of a war widow. A lone woman whose husband had died defending the Nation. Madison refused! Imagine that. Hell, today you try to resist a pay raise for the teachers union on grounds that selling your children's labor is immoral and they just about hang you! And here was Madison refusing to give one cent to a War Widow. That's interesting. But, it wasn't just 'politicians' who felt general welfare was immoral. Common Americans too. There's a very interesting story that relates an experience Davy Crockett had (he grew up poor). Anyway, Davy was a famous US Representative and had initially supported general welfare. Then he had a conversation with a farmer named Horatio Bunce on the subject of dispersing government funds to alleviate individual hardship. It's not like this potato farmer was rich. But following from that conversation Crockett (who had at first voted in favor of welfare) profoundly changed his mind realizing the immorality instead offering to pay from his own pocket (and he was the poorest politician in Washington) in support of a war widow - but outright refused to tax American Citizens through force to use for the 'general welfare' and gave passionate speeches against it on grounds of it's immorality.
Flash forward to the 1930s and the US Supreme court citing Hamilton passed welfare into law. This only happened when it was made clear to the sitting justices that the then POTUS Franklin Roosevelt was going to push for the 9 US Supreme Court Justices to be bumped up to 15 or more (nothing in the US Constitution says it has to be 9 - that's decided by Congress). It was called his "Court Packing" plan. Let's not forget that at this time the government was paying farmers to set aside farm land and not to work it - to keep food prices up - while Americans were literally starving to death! Crazy isn't it? So, the US Supreme Court, citing Hamilton, pushed through welfare reform. Which was only 'supposed' to be a 7% tax on those pesky top 1% (people making over $5 million a year). And here we are today. And we all know how little out massive income tax bill actually goes for welfare.
Anyhow, it's interesting to read how welfare came into being and how long this has been debated. BUT, hardly any Americans know of this history or the debate. We're raised to accept Income Tax and Welfare as moral - when NONE of the founding fathers or early POTUS supported general welfare.
Well, now we know why. They knew what a mess that would be made - and that's the mess we're in now. And, IMO, there's no turning back now. We'll continue to go on until 51% of the American public is on welfare of some kind or another (right now it's 40%). And then it will be impossible to be elected without promising the electorate a handout. Then we'll see a rapid spiral downward as the last bit of wealth is auctioned off. Even our children's children's children's labor (which the English actually do sell) will not be there. AND I hope, at that time, we can reacquaint ourselves with the principles that were used to found what was the most prosperous equitable nation in history. Until then, you may want to read up on some of that early history - it is interesting.
As an aside to the US government paying farmers NOT to work their land WHILE Americans were starving. The same is happening today. Out of one side of the Politicians mouth they say they want "Affordable Housing for All" while at the same time they fully support the Federal Reserve doing anything and everything to PREVENT house prices from falling. Just this week I heard how good it was that house prices were 'stabilizing' at their overly inflated prices - keeping many Americans FROM owning a home. See, the government doesn't care about starving Americans or whether Americans can afford a home - now that we pay income tax it's all about keeping their paymasters whole. Thus, what we have in reality is Welfare for the Common Good ... of the Bankers. As they say: Dance with the Devil, the Devil doesn't change...
08-12-12, 02:34 AM #2
08-12-12, 01:59 PM #3
It doesn't sound like your book is especially balanced in its treatment (especially of Hamilton). I would not, for example, that we brought with us from England the concept of "Poor laws" tht really served as the basis of our welfare system (and those poor laws were in effect in the 18th and 19th centuries, so well before the 1930s, though they had primarily been implemented at the State level).
I've also never heard that Washington "later regretted" the government's actions in the Whiskey Rebellion (which were immensely popular in the country at the time, as they proved the government could enforce its laws) other than the obvious regret for loss of life that everyone (including Hamilton) would have shared.
It is nonsense to assume that a phenomenon as complex as welfare can be traced to a single man at a single point in history. We all like simple explanations, but the author of that book seems to like them so much that he's thrown accuracy and careful thought out the window. Does he even mention the Poor Law of 1601 or the Settlement Act?
The tax raised that led to the rebellion was used to pay down the federal debt, not on any sort of welfare scheme, and it was nothing at all like the taxes that caused the Revolution, as the dispute there was taxation without representation (which the whiskey producers in fact did have in congress), not "taxes on commodities" or more generally "taxes are the suxx0rs".
08-14-12, 06:10 PM #4
Hamilton's curse isn't just about general welfare, it's more about a man who was more comfortable with Statism and centralized power. Hence his 5 hour long speech that, among other things, supported electing president and congress for life. His support of federal debt and the use of a central bank.
08-14-12, 06:11 PM #5
As for general welfare here's some interesting quotes:
"To want to create a law which regularly, permanently, and uniformly relieves indigency without also increasing the indigent population, without increasing their laziness along with their needs, and their idleness with their vices, is to plant an acorn and to be stunned when a stem appears, followed by leaves, flowers, and fruits, which in turn will one day produce a whole forest from the bowels of the earth.
... I am deeply convinced that any permanent, regular, administrative system whose aim will be to provide for the needs of the poor, will breed more miseries than it can cure, will deprave the population that it wants to help and comfort, will in time reduce the rich to being no more than the tenant-farmers of the poor, will dry up the sources of savings, will stop the accumulation of capital, will retard the development of trade, will benumb human industry and activity, and will culminate by bringing about a violent revolution in the State, when the number of those who receive alms will have become as large as those who give it, and the indigent, no longer being able to take from the impoverished rich the means of providing for his needs, will find it easier to plunder them of all their property at one stroke than to ask for their help."
"Any measure which establishes legal charity on a permanent basis and gives it an administrative form thereby creates an idle and lazy class, living at the expense of the industrial and working class. This, at least, is its inevitable consequence if not the immediate result. It reproduces all the vices of the monastic system, minus the high ideals of morality and religion which often went along with it. Such a law is a bad seed planted in the legal structure. Circumstances, as in America, can prevent the seed from developing rapidly, but they cannot destroy it, and if the present generation escapes its influence, it will devour the well-being of generations to come.
If you closely observe the condition of populations among whom such legislation has long been in force you will easily discover that the effects are not less unfortunate for morality than for public prosperity, and that it depraves men even more than it impoverishes them."
Alexis de Tocqueville, trans. Seymour Drescher
Memoir on Pauperism
Hartington Fine Arts Ltd
08-14-12, 06:17 PM #6
"My general position, in regard to the abuses of almsgiving, may be laid down thus. Almsgiving is abused, whenever it ministers in any way to a neglect of forethought and providence; to idleness, pride, or vanity ; or to luxurious and intemperate appetites ;— when it encroaches in any degree upon the feelings of a healthy self-respect, or a regard to character ; — and when it in any degree lessens in the receiver the feeling, that it is disgraceful to depend upon almsgiving, as long as a capacity of self-support is retained."
Elements of Moral Philosophy
Folsom, Wells, and Thurston
NOTE: I find in many countries this feeling of disgrace is true among farming communities but not very common, if at all, among the people living in the city.
08-14-12, 06:19 PM #7
"I readily and, I trust, feelingly acknowledge the duty incumbent on us all as men and citizens, and as among the highest and holiest of our duties, to provide for those who, in the mysterious order of Providence, are subject to want and to disease of body or mind; but I can not find any authority in the Constitution for making the Federal Government the great almoner of public charity throughout the United States. To do so would, in my judgment, be contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution and subversive of the whole theory upon which the Union of these States is founded. And if it were admissible to contemplate the exercise of this power for any object whatever, I can not avoid the belief that it would in the end be prejudicial rather than beneficial in the noble offices of charity to have the charge of them transferred from the States to the Federal Government."
President Franklin Pierce
Franklin Pierce: Veto Message
The American Presidency Project
May 3, 1854
08-14-12, 06:22 PM #8
"I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the government, the government should not support the people.
The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood."
Veto of the Texas Seed Bill
February 16, 1887
08-14-12, 06:23 PM #9
08-14-12, 06:30 PM #10
08-14-12, 06:31 PM #11
Why is it, we now have fifth generational welfare? I remember when three generations was a shame, now, five going on six is just accepted.
08-14-12, 06:39 PM #12
How about this then, from Thomas Paine:
Poverty, therefore, is a thing created by that which is called civilized life. It exists not in the natural state. On the other hand, the natural state is without those advantages which flow from agriculture, arts, science and manufactures...
Civilization, therefore, or that which is so-called, has operated two ways: to make one part of society more affluent, and the other more wretched, than would have been the lot of either in a natural state...
the condition of every person born into the world, after a state of civilization commences, ought not to be worse than if he had been born before that period..
It is a position not to be controverted that the earth, in its natural, cultivated state was, and ever would have continued to be, the common property of the human race. In that state every man would have been born to property. He would have been a joint life proprietor with rest in the property of the soil, and in all its natural productions, vegetable and animal.Every proprietor, therefore, of cultivated lands, owes to the community ground-rent (for I know of no better term to express the idea) [we call it property tax now-SG] for the land which he holds; and it is from this ground-rent that the fund prod in this plan is to issue. The property owners owe rent to those who do not own property for the privilege of cultivating the land, and taking away the natural ownership that all people have.
Cultivation is at least one of the greatest natural improvements ever made by human invention. It has given to created earth a tenfold value. But the landed monopoly that began with it has produced the greatest evil. It has dispossessed more than half the inhabitants of every nation of their natural inheritance, without providing for them, as ought to have been done, an indemnification for that loss, and has thereby created a species of poverty and wretchedness that did not exist before...
To create a national fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property: And also, the sum of ten pounds per annum, during life, to every person now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they shall arrive at that age...
There are, in every country, some magnificent charities established by individuals. It is, however, but little that any individual can do, when the whole extent of the misery to be relieved is considered. He may satisfy his conscience, but not his heart. He may give all that he has, and that all will relieve but little. It is only by organizing civilization upon such principles as to act like a system of pulleys, that the whole weight of misery can be removed.
...It is the practice of what has unjustly obtained the name of civilization (and the practice merits not to be called either charity or policy) to make some provision for persons becoming poor and wretched only at the time they become so. Would it not, even as a matter of economy, be far better to adopt means to prevent their becoming poor? This can best be done by making every person when arrived at the age of twenty-one years an inheritor of something to begin with. It is from the overgrown acquisition of property that the fund will support itself...
08-14-12, 06:42 PM #13
08-14-12, 07:06 PM #14
Now, that's interesting - do you think that's fair? I mean, suppose after year 5 you still are just as poor as when you started? It seems to me anyone who needs help, real help, should receive help. I just think that help should come from the community (well, in theory, now there's no much "community" left anymore which is probably why IMO democracy no longer functions well).
If after 5 years you can get a physician to give you a phantom illness diagnosis you can get on disability payments forever - these have skyrocketed over these last years for babyboomers (paid for by their grandkids who also can't find work and are stuck in the Uni degree mill). If you have a child and they appear to have severe a disorder you can apply for them to get disability until they are 18.
08-14-12, 07:13 PM #15
08-14-12, 07:16 PM #16
So, I was a little confused about that.
Secondly, I disagree with Pain this phrase: Poverty, therefore, is a thing created by that which is called civilized life. It exists not in the natural state. Obviously poverty (or lack of necessity) exists outside of civility. Which is why I wanted to know about what he was saying about property. He seems to be suggesting that because of the current system (of his day) then people were being born into untenable situations?
I can't but help feel this is from a large property owners perspective? Not that Pain held large amounts of property, but, it just seems like that's the POV. In the end he seems to want to balance this by having the government accruing property which it then uses force to extract tax from the Citizens. I can't see how that is any different then the screwed up system we have now?
Isn't it odd we have real poverty AND many WANT to work? That's odd isn't it? Here we have all these factories in China making stuff, but, can't seem to make that stuff here. TTYTT I'm not 100% we could do it here given the disposition of labor. Also, why do we have so many that don't work in the fields with the Mexicans? That seems odd to me? I mean, there's some work to be done, if people want to do it but people do not want to do it. Which again, seems strange to me.
08-14-12, 08:09 PM #17
I think he's saying that the natural state of man is not poverty, that when we occupied the land in it's wild state, we got as much wealth as we could hunt or gather. Civilization isn't a system that developed because it's necessarily better, but it should be, otherwise what's the point, so the inequality of wealth that civilization generates should at the very least compensate people for what they have lost.
08-16-12, 12:08 AM #18
Then why stop at the boarder of the "Nation"? Maybe we "Americans" should reduce our standard of living and start lending to poorer people living in other parts of the earth - by force. We promise the labor of our children (lowering their standard of living - regardless of how productive they are) to raise the standard of living of someone from somewhere else at some future time.
08-16-12, 12:39 AM #19
Imagine the gall, telling an American born black slave, THEY can 'go back' to Africa. That's your choice, be a Slave (law of the land - you use the roads) or YOU leave. Well, why doesn't the White guy go 'back to Europe' and let the Slave live as a freeman? Tyranny of the Ninny or not, it's immoral to use force against another human. Draw a line in the sand and call it America or Sector 23A, it doesn't change that fact.
08-16-12, 11:43 AM #20
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