The Need For Re-Emancipation

Abraham_Lincoln_November_1863I recently was hired on at a grocery store for the summer. For the first couple of weeks on the job, I blissfully bagged groceries for hundreds of customers, spreading smiles at this incredibly successful venture in capitalism. The success of this particular company is such that it provides a fairly good model of the ever-increasing division of labor in healthy economies, so they have employees whose entire job is merely to bag groceries and little else. Wal-Mart can’t do that.

Alas, my job was destined to change–I was hired on as a cashier–so my days of simply placing produce into bags was a holding place until I was fully trained.  The training wasn’t incredibly long or complicated, and one’s conceptions of the typical list of things that are required for an aspiring cash-register operator doesn’t exactly tend to excite that much passion, unless one has some sort of moral issue with trading currency for goods and services.

However, there was one section of the training that inspired some discussion among the trainees for period of time, and that was the topic of welfare. As a cashier, one is trained on the proper handling of transactions involving food stamps and other types of government benefits for low-income households or people.  Someone in the class made an comment under their breath about having something against “welfare people”. This sparked a firestorm of opposition from practically everyone else in the room (I stayed silent throughout the entire affair). The righteously indignant welfare-supporters made many arguments: “Sometimes people just need help.” “How else will they handle their bills?” “The government will get your money anyway, so it shouldn’t matter to you.” “Life is really hard for some people.”

Not wanting to make enemies with so many people that I hardly knew, I stuck to my aforementioned silence. Inside my mind, a sort of revolution was taking place. I have always been opposed to practically all kinds of government welfare (unless you count the Jefferson model, then I support precisely one type) but I had never really placed it on any kind of special pedestal above the rest of the issues that I had an opinion on. However, this up-close-and-personal contact with people on both sides of the issue forced a conclusion upon me: In 1865, the Thirteenth amendment was ratified, outlawing slavery in the United States. In the mid-1960s, under the Great Society programs, slavery was re-instituted in a more insidious form.

In reference the former type of slavery, the arguments in defense of it were rather varied. The cases that found found the most traction, however, were the ones that generally communicated the sentiment that the slaves were far better off being slaves. The enslaved, according to the pro-slavery side, had no means with which to support themselves. Therefore slaveholders were duty-bound to keep their slaves. Also, there were two inherent types of people in society, those who had the ability to create wealth and those inherently lacking this gift. Thus, those who could not produce wealth were destined to a life that would be one of serving those who could. Finally, they contended that freed slaves would merely be a massive burden upon society, because the slaves were naturally incapable of any sort of economic self-help. Slavery was then declared a “positive good.”

The arguments for government welfare are similar. Those supporting welfare argue that this is really the only way to make it for the modern poor. They must lack the ability to do anything of value, so to keep them from being a societal burden, we really ought to give them a handout and at least help a little. The government should pay for their food, healthcare, and housing in order to somehow raise the poor’s standard of living and bring dignity to those of lower income. In fact, this is a benevolent system, not meant as a last resort but rather a way of life.

But this isn’t really slavery, is it? It’s not like those on welfare are forced to live certain lifestyle, have no selection in their opportunities, have no choice in the food they eat, or basically have an entirely separate group of people determine what they are entitled to. Ok, maybe so. Subsidization implies regulation. But the term “slavery” means that they are required to do certain things. Welfare doesn’t require that much of its recipients. Perhaps not directly, but it certainly comes with some strings attached. Once on welfare, you must support the agenda of whoever is providing it, or you risk losing it. Thus, those who hold real power in society will always have a willing base of labor and support that will tirelessly work to enforce the status quo if the power-holders promise to provide in every material way for this base.

The insidious difference between the institution of southern slavery and modern government welfare is this: the African slaves had literally no choice in the matter, modern welfare-recipients always have the option to choose. They are told that this is really the best choice for them and society as a whole. The slaves were told the same thing, but very few of them actually believed it. Those on welfare, by proof of their voluntary participation, must believe this lie.

Therefore, seeing the obvious moral issues counter-acting pre-Civil War slavery and that extremely similar arguments are used to promote welfare, I believe it is time for a second, re-emancipation of those on the bottom of society. End the insidious lie, the morally untenable status quo, and the misguided understanding that not all are created equal. End welfare, free the people.


Discussion — 4 Responses

  • Daniel Blumentritt June 13, 2013 on 7:00 pm

    From my own experience as a cashier for 2 years, about 50% of the people using food stamps quite obviously didn’t need them because of the large amount of money they spend on alcohol, cigarettes, sodas, candy, chips, and cookies. That money could easily have gone towards actual nutrition for them and their families had the stamps not been there.

    “It’s not like those on welfare are forced to live certain lifestyle, have no selection in their opportunities, have no choice in the food they eat”.

    To some degree, the poor don’t have a lot of selection in their opportunities – it costs a lot more to eat well than to eat poorly. The reason for this – biased government subsidies that create an artificial price gap between crappy food and good food.

  • Luke Adams June 14, 2013 on 10:52 am

    That sentence in quotes was meant to be sarcastic. Food stamp programs prescribe a definite list of food items that are covered, so choice comes down to nil, at least at the grocery store.

  • Nathan Exley June 15, 2013 on 4:02 pm

    BAM… hit the nail on the head.

  • Nathan Exley June 16, 2013 on 4:58 pm

    😉 relax Drew. Even if the nail was a straw man… he still knocked it over. I wasn’t trying to pick a fight.