End to Welfare Unlikely, But Helping Others Doesn't Have to Be Routine


Attempts to roll back the welfare state have had slight success, but what if there's another way to lift people up?

Welfare, for all its pluses and minuses, appears to be sticking around for the foreseeable future. The most distressing part of that fact is that it's still needed.

We all want to see individuals and families get out off the cycle of poverty and dependency. The question is how we can do that most efficiently.

Lawmakers have made some positive changes to the welfare system, such as work requirements, but the massive bureaucratic structure is unlikely to end the problem it seeks to solve.

That does not give cause to be hopeless though, because reducing poverty doesn't solely require government intervention and spending.

There is another way, one that will require effort, but which will achieve results that will help all Americans.

It starts with reinvigorating attitudes that once minimized the need of a welfare system.

It's time to dial back attacks on the welfare state and, instead, demonstrate that there's a better way. We should focus on encouraging civil society and nongovernmental organizations that not only assist those in need but do something even more important: encourage healthier social norms so that, over time, the perceived need for government programs recedes. Call it a welfare-state work-around strategy.

Howard Husock, director of the Social Entrepreneurship Initiative at the Manhattan Institute, says the idea is not to cut spending on social welfare programs, but rather to empower other charitable organizations to take over the role that government welfare has come to hold. Call it competition for welfare recipients, with the difference being that private organizations use their own money instead of tax dollars to help the poor.

For quite some time, many Americans have believed that whenever a social ill exists, it’s the government’s job to fix it. But that never really pans out as planned. Government intervention can even make an existing problem worse.

For too long, many Americans have believed that when social problems arise, we must look to government to cope with them. But in a healthy society, ills such as single parenthood, drug abuse, or non-school-ready children are not taken as givens that government must try to pick up after. For long-term social improvement, conservatives should look instead to nonsubsidized, nonprofit organizations that encourage healthy norms, including sobriety, delayed gratification, voluntarism, and charity.

Examples of this were the organizations founded by Charles Loring Brace during the 19th century. To help new immigrants, he founded charitable organizations that enabled them to assimilate into American culture. These organizations were privately funded and succeeded in achieving their goals.

Private entities have a much bigger incentive to see individuals succeed than government does. Look at it this way, if you were helping out someone financially, wouldn’t you want them to find work so that they would no longer need your support? Of course! And you would likely take a vested interest in helping that person to become independent.

That's how private organizations operate. You'd think that same philosophy would motivate government to get people to be productive, but then you'd be under the impression that government functions like companies or communities, and that's not the case.

So rather than criticizing the system, let's instead acknowledge its shortcomings and look elsewhere for solutions. Putting more resources into the hands of private charities and empowering them to take on tasks government performs on auto-pilot is one of those changes that could make a serious impact.