The Self-Imposed Slavery of the Redistribution State

Republican Rep. Allen West decried government “handouts” as the worst form of modern “slavery” during a recent speech to Congress.

In modern times, West said, this has meant fighting to prevent black Americans “from being trapped in a permanent underclass through dependence on government handouts.” He said that fight continues despite the welfare reform of the 1990s.

West said the GOP “firmly believes” in the safety net. “We reject the idea of the safety net becoming a hammock,” he added.

Becoming a hammock? Rep. West, that ship has sailed.

“For this reason, the Republican value of minimizing government dependence is particularly beneficial to the poorest among us. Conversely, the Democratic appetite for ever-increasing redistributionary handouts is in fact the most insidious form of slavery remaining in the world today, and it does not promote economic freedom,” West said.

West is right that the welfare state represents a form of slavery. But he’s behind the times in thinking that it only applies to poor black people. A majority of Americans now depend on some form of government handouts. This includes rich whites as much as anyone else. These handouts include mortgage subsidies, farm subsidies, essentially permanent unemployment benefits, corporate bailouts, union favors, medical care, Medicare, Social Security, ObamaCare and a host of other goodies as far as the eye can see.

Normally “slavery” refers to a form of force imposed on people against their will. The strong take advantage of the weak. The kind of slavery generated by the welfare state is different. It’s self-imposed. Productive people tolerate the dependence of their fellow man on them for government handouts, secretly thinking they might need it themselves one day. Social Security and Medicare, the most expensive of the wealth transfer programs, are guaranteed to everybody (at least for now).

West is fatally wrong when he makes a distinction between the government “safety net” rather than a hammock. Whether government provides a “safety net” or a “hammock,” in either case it’s at the expense of people who are forced to provide it. Politicians are always increasing and expanding the benefits, but they still claim that it’s only a minimal safety net. Reasonable people think, “Well, it’s only a safety net, and it’s only temporary, and it’s only for a minority of the population.” None of this is true. It might have been at the beginning, but it no longer is. America, once the land of the free and the home of the ruggedly individualistic, is now a middle class, government-benefit entitlement society. America is the land of Big Babies. Is it any wonder the economy no longer robustly grows and expands, or even grows at all? Obama and his cohorts in the Democratic Party know this, and they’re not in the least bothered by it. These Big Babies are their constituents, their political reason for living.

Unfortunately, Republicans like Allen West enable the problem by engaging in the pretense that there’s any difference between a government “safety net” or “hammock.” At what point does it become one, and not the other? West is implying that government has a right to force one segment of the population to pay for the benefits, subsidies and wealth transfers to another segment — so long as we call it “a safety net.” Well, that’s what we’ve been doing since at least the 1930s. Big Government has become bigger, bigger and bigger — and we still call it a safety net.

Republicans, even the better ones like Allen West, are unable to topple the welfare state because they endorse its core. They believe the purpose of government is, in part, to force some to pay for the well-being of others. In principle, this is no different than what a liberal Democrat or an outright socialist claims. Only the price tag differs.

Imagine if you gave a credit card with a huge limit — or no limit — to a spoiled young relative. Imagine that you told this young relative, “Now you’re entitled to use that card — but don’t use it too much.” If the relative feels entitled to spend on the card at all, you had better believe she’ll run the card to its limit. This is what the federal government has done. Not only has the population given the federal government a credit card with no limit, but it has given the federal government the right to print or create as much money as it wants. What impact this will ultimately have on the value of the currency, and the very underpinnings of the economy itself, most of us will (sadly) live long enough to see. It will be a tragic and likely horrifying case study in economics that humans will be commenting on and learning from for centuries to come, when the bottom falls out of the American economy, as it will on our current unchecked course.

I suppose Rep. West is sincere and wants to believe that his party, the Republicans, are somehow a check on the morally and fiscally bankrupt policies of our government. But the spending binge has not stopped, and the deficit and national debt continue to exponentially grow. I don’t see the difference he’s talking about.

This is the reason why there’s not a devalued dollar’s worth of difference between the two major parties. Each party believes that government has a right to make individual citizens their brothers’ keepers. The only dispute is over which brothers should do the keeping, and whether they should be forced to pray or allowed to have abortions while doing so. And maybe they differ on whether the brothers being kept ought to be kept on a beer or a champagne budget.

But in principle, it’s all the same. Government can force us to make hammocks or nets for others deemed deserving. But either way, it’s still slavery.