Perspective: The Workfare Fallacy
FEBRUARY 01, 1986
“If able-bodied people are to be supported at public expense, then they should be made to work in exchange for support.” So goes the defense of workfare.
This plausible statement is a trap for the unwary, another lure along the twisted path at the end of which lies authoritarianism, welfare-state style. It implies that government, not self-interest or necessity, should force the able-bodied poor to work. One recent book on workfare asserts that “For recipients [of government welfare], work must be viewed . . . as an obligation to society.” They should work not to pursue their own happiness, not out of free choice, but because “society” requires it, and the government commands it. Lenin would approve.
The key error in this thinking is the false premise that anyone, able-bodied or otherwise, should be supported at public expense. Private efforts made throughout the country to help the poor can be commended. But having the government tax Peter to pay Paul is plunder. If we avoid that, the excuse for drafting the disadvantaged into the labor force disappears.
For several decades, environmentalists have fought the energy companies over the use of public lands. But they have learned to work together in a small corner of southern Louisiana.
The 26,800-acre Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary is a natural habitat for birds and other wildlife. It also contains deposits of oil and natural gas. Since the mid-1950s these deposits have been carefully extracted, without disturbing the habitat.
What is different about Rainey is that it doesn’t lie on public land, but is owned by the Audubon Society. Being privately owned, arrangements could be worked out so the environment is preserved, consumers get oil and gas, the energy companies earn a profit, and the Audubon Society receives approximately a million dollars a year in royalties.
The Rainey Sanctuary is a promising, private model for the use and conservation of scarce resources.
FEE’s Best Sellers
A recent list of some of the best-selling conservative books in the last forty years failed to mention some of FEE’s favorites which would easily make the list. in our fortieth anniversary year, it is appropriate for us to point them out:
• In all of its editions, Henry Hazlitt’s wonderful Economics in One Lesson has sold over one million copies. FEE has sold about 250,000 of those over the years.
• Approximately 500,000 copies of Frederic Bastiat’s The Law have come off of FEE’s presses since 1950, FEE has sold over 800,000 copies of Henry Grady Weaver’s important primer on the history of human freedom, The Mainspring of Human Progress, and of course a number of Mises’ shorter works would make the list: Planned Chaos, Bureaucracy, The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality, Economic Policy, and Planning for Freedom.
These are some of the most popular “first source” books for anyone seeking to understand and explain the free market, private property, limited government philosophy.
Most people think of foreign imports as foreign products coming in • and American dollars going out. But have you ever wondered what foreigners do with all these dollars?
Consider, for instance, a Japanese auto manufacturer. When he sells us a car, the American dollars he gets won’t do him much good in a Tokyo department store. He must take them to a bank and convert them into Japanese yen.
The hankers can’t spend these dollars in Japanese stores either, so they are traded on the world market until they wind up in the hands of people who need American dollars to buy American exports. When a foreigner buys an American-made product, he uses the dollars we spent on foreign imports. Trade is a two-way street.
Thirty Years Ago
In the March 1956 Freeman, John Chamberlain reviewed the paperback edition of F. A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. He rightly called it “one of the great books of a generation.”
The book was originally published twelve years earlier, a timely warning of the incipient totalitarian tendencies of planned economies. Hayek’s guiding principle has been an inspiration to many: “A policy of freedom for the individual is the only truly progressive policy.”
The Road to Serfdom has been a landmark in alerting generations to the correct path to freedom.
Publisher: Paul L. Poirot
Senior Editors: Beth A. Hoffman
Book Review Editor: Edmund A. Opitz
Contributing Editors: Robert G. Anderson
Howard Baetjer Jr.
Bettina Bien Greaves
Gregory F. Rehmke
Joan Kennedy Taylor
The Freeman is published monthly by The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., Irvington-on-Hudson, New York 10533. (914) 591-7230. FEE is a nonpolitical, nonprofit, educational champion of private property, the free market, and limited government.
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Copyright © 1986 by The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc. Printed in U.S.A. Permission is granted to reprint any article in this issue, provided appropriate credit is given and two copies of the reprinted material are sent to The Foundation.
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