When asked about what issues most affect the stability of the country, the debt and deficit will invariably rank somewhere in the top ten. And for good reason: the current U.S. operating debt stands at $17.3 trillion, and every boy or girl sliding down the Chute of Life is handed a bill for $54K right out the gate by their deadbeat Uncle Sam, Purveyor of Profligacy himself. Welcome to the world, little Johnny. Glad you could join us.
While efforts in Congress to rein in the ruinous spending responsible for shackling Johnny to a future fiscal Armageddon are obviously necessary, clearly neglected (given the latest two year budget deal that increased spending), and a half century overdue, an argument can be made that such an attempt amounts only to cutting away the gangrenous foot while the infection destroys the heart. In other words, government spending is a symptom. The disease lies elsewhere. Diagnosis: we’ve got a culture problem.
The problems don’t necessarily lie with the expansive cadre of government social programs designed to shield people against the vicissitudes of life. As many as there are, the majority serve a legitimate purpose–a safety net. Nor are the problems the ever increasing number of people accessing them, although that nears the mark. The issue is why the increased participation? To understand the reasoning behind that question, one must consider the hierarchy of American society.
In any populous, the family is the basic, foundational unit, itself built on the stable marriage of a man and woman. This unit is largely self-governing, and therefore generally doesn’t require the oversight of the next representative unit, the community. Push out from the community, and one arrives at the culture at-large, the amalgamation of communities coast to coast. Overseeing the culture is government, which usually–thankfully–allows the culture to conduct itself unmolested, unless a demonstrated public need justifies involvement.
A breakdown at one level always determines the necessary level of intervention to be made by a higher agent, which anymore is usually the government. They have the “deep” pockets, after all. The interplay is ever between culture and the government it institutes, and government and the culture it supports. They feed off each other, but maladies almost always start in the culture, and are compounded as government seeks to remedy them.
Take the dissolution of marriage and its attendant problems. According to a National Vital Statistics report, in 1950, the marriage rate sat at 90.2 marriages per 1000 women. In 2009, that rate fell almost two-thirds to 36 per 1000 women. Over roughly the same period, the number of children living in never-married, single parent households has skyrocketed. Today, 40.8% of all children are born to unwed mothers (72.5% for black children). As fathers leave the household, both poverty and welfare dependence increase substantially, requiring government to expand costly existing programs to fulfill need, and/or create new ones.
The numbers are massive. In 2008, total welfare spending was $714 billion, with roughly $280 billion going to single parent families. According to a 2003 Heritage Foundation report, because most fathers on their own earn enough to support a family, if poor women were to marry the father of her children, two-thirds of them would be immediately lifted out of poverty. What we see instead is an exploding number of single mothers seemingly content to remain firmly ensconced with her new Baby Daddy, Uncle Sam. Again with that guy?
It’s a vicious cycle. Families fall apart. Government creates myriad programs to alleviate resultant poverty. Boatloads of money are infused. Seeing boatloads of money available, more mothers abandon thoughts of marriage and apply for “free” aid. Government expands. Public debt develops binge disorder. Husbandry become irrelevant. Rinse and repeat.
Several years ago, a man was hired to clear trees from an Oklahoma property. When the homeowner proceeded to write a check, the worker stated to make it out to his mother. When asked why, Mr. Able-Bodied stated he was on disability. The homeowner was sitting U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, self-avowed spending hawk and last person on Earth you’d want to ask for assistance defrauding taxpayers. But so he did.
Which highlights another manifestation of the illness threatening to crater our finances and the idea of American self-reliance. Disability benefits, which fall under the Social Security Administration (SSA), are designed to temper the costs of living and provide support to those unable to work. Providing over $200 billion in benefits to nearly 14 million Americans annually, the program is also a rich target for those seeking to game the system. A Senate subcommittee report, inspired by Coburn’s non-disabled disabled tree worker, found that in 25 percent of cases reviewed, “evidence confirming disabilities was ‘insufficient, contradictory, or incomplete.'” Meaning that potentially billions of dollars are sailing out of the public coffers to subsidize the non-disabled, while cases for the legitimately disabled languish in administrative backlog. The illness has a deep moral component, it seems.
Most everyone likes babies, correct? They’re cute, make funny noises. What about adult babies, though? Never heard of one? Apparently, it’s a thing. Despite showing aptitude for woodworking, Stanley Thornton Jr. moonlights under the guise of disability as an “adult” “baby” requiring feeding and changing on a daily basis. The SSA in 2011 cleared him (!) of wrongdoing and continues to pay for his “disability”. He may kick back on a bed wearing his “adult” diapers, collecting $860 a month in benefits while sucking on a bottle, but in reality, we’re the real suckers. We fund a government who, in turn, funds a societal parasite with less disability than a cadaver. The illness has a deep psychological component, too.
Corporations, not to be left out, get in on the cultural dysfunction, as well. Late last year, a glitch among machines in the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system prevented cashiers from seeing cardholder’s spending limits. In effect, they had none. Pandemonium ensued. Two Wal-Mart stores in Louisiana were picked clean as hundreds exploited the glitch and made off with hundreds of dollars in food and other merchandise. Wal-Mart, whose executives were aware of the issue, instead of clamping down on purchases, fully enabled the pilfering.
EBT is a welfare system jointly funded by the states and federal government, so as cardholder’s engaged in opportunistic thievery from Wal-Mart, John Q Taxpayer’s wallet lightened also. Ultimately, Wal-Mart is on the hook for repaying what was stolen, but that’s hardly the point. Instead of putting a swift end to the fraud, Wal-Mart, whose misplaced focus “was to continue serving our customers,” aided and abetted behavior indicative of a culture on a path of gradual instability, then rapid collapse. “Serve” your “customers”, indeed.
In short–though it hasn’t seemed like it–cultural dysfunction begets government largess, which feeds back into the culture. Government first responds to culture, not the other way ’round, and if the culture has a cough, government follows with a cough lozenge. Except culture has pneumonia and lozenges won’t do squat. Treat the disease, not the symptom.
Now, where’s my bottle at?