Culture’s Problem, Redux

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Tuesday news conference outlining charges for disability fraud.
Source: Michael Appleton, New York Times

Revisiting the theme of my latest Saturday column (here), problems surrounding government waste and fraud actually have their genesis in the culture at large. Culture decays or grows dysfunctional. Government attempts a fix, most times with good intention. The “fix” provides a band-aid, but also incentivizes greater utilization of the programs for fraudulent reasons (“free” money!). Government expands; debt expands with it. Think positive feedback.

As I stated then, culture’s problems in cases like these feature strong moral components: (1) Abuses of the programs amount to–obvious–societal (and generational) theft. These programs are fiscal leviathans, and losses via fraud are concomitantly huge, too. (2) As fraudulent participants in these programs increase, the administrative efforts necessary to process them create backlogs that hinder the legitimately sick, poor, or whomever from receiving aid. The true mission of the program in the first place.

Which leads us out of the pot and back into the frying pan. News came out of New York City yesterday that 106 people–many former police and firefighters–are being charged for disability fraud in what officials are calling the largest such case in the history of Social Security.

In a scheme dating back as far as 1988, and involving as many as 1,000 people, investigators say those charged were coached by conspirators to fail tests measuring memory, fake panic attacks, and, sickeningly, should they have worked in the period surrounding 9/11, discuss to government doctors that they fear airplanes or skyscrapers, and were too psychologically touched to continue or secure work, or even leave home.

Often times, their social media accounts painted contrasting tales. The accused posted photos ranging from fishing expeditions, riding motorcycles, helicopter flying and shooting a basketball. Based on intercepted phone calls and interviews with undercover agents, those charged are accused of pilfering a massive sum: $400 million, with each collecting between 30 to 50 thousand per year; some while still drawing on a pension.

According to the New York Times, one such disability applicant was told “to misspell words and miscalculate simple arithmetic, and to say that she kept the television on at home “just to hear a voice in the house,” but to emphasize that she kept changing channels because she could not focus.”

This case is simply representative of those occurring on a daily basis. For every big case, there’s thousands like it. Unfortunately, victims abound. Not only the aforementioned cases of legitimate disability, and not only the taxpayers. Generations as yet unborn are bearing the cost of society’s decent into immorality. Thomas Jefferson understood our predicament well:

“The principle of spending money to be paid by posterity under the name of funding is but swindling futurity on a large scale.”

We can’t expect government to supply a remedy this time. It’s down to culture to heal thyself.

Can we?

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About Michael Haugen

Michael Haugen is a full-spectrum conservative and recent graduate from Eastern Washington University (BS Biology). His main interests in politics and public policy center around health care, education and tax reform. He'll be returning to EWU in 2014 to complete a Master's degree in Public Administration. Follow him on Twitter: @HaugenTRA

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