All Commentary
Saturday, April 1, 1961

The Fraud of The Welfare State

Mr. Miles, on leave from his Los Angeles management consulting service for a teaching assignment in Idaho, also does free-lance writ­ing and editorial work.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Jeremy Bentham proclaimed that the supreme good is “the greatest good of the greatest num­ber.” This doctrine, interpreted to subordinate individual to social values, has become the ethical foundation of the Welfare State.

But what is “welfare”? And what is “happiness”? Let us see what Webster says:

“Welfare. 1. State of faring, or doing well, esp., condition of health, prosperity, etc.”

“Happiness. 1. Good luck; good fortune; prosperity. 2. A state of well-being and pleasurable satis­faction; bliss.”

For all practical purposes, then, “welfare” and “happiness,” in dic­tionary language, seem to be almost synonymous. And the “wel­fare state,” as we know it, fulfills the requirements of neither!

As men and women, and even as children, all of us want out of life—more than anything else—to have a sense of self-respect and a feeling of control over our en­vironment sufficient, at least, to establish a basic independence. When these conditions are not present, we are not “happy,” and we do not consider ourselves to be “faring, or doing well.”

What is the game children like best? Isn’t it pretending to be grown up? And what is it about being grown up that catches their fancy? Isn’t it their idea that grownups always “do what they want to do”—that is, control their environment instead of being con­trolled by it?

Most parents have had the experience of urging their children in vain to do something that was good for them. Assuming that un­questioning obedience has not been demanded under similar circum­stances in the past, the compliance is likely to be, at best, tearful and reluctant. But let the child find out for himself that he wants to do it—and then watch him plunge en­thusiastically into the very same activity! What is the difference? It is not that by nature he is dis­obedient or resentful of authority. It is just that, in proportion to the amount of life in them, children as well as grownups yearn to feel that they are controlled from in­side rather than outside. (One of the principal problems of parents and others in authority, therefore, is to learn how to elicit obedience in such a way that it will nurture rather than strangle this craving.)

Attaining Goals

To be sure, children are (also like grownups) often spoiled. The child of rich parents may be given all his heart desires even before he asks for it. And he probably will become a brat. Why? Because he is never given a chance to clearly formulate his wants and then use his personal strengths and abili­ties in attaining them. And be­cause this natural path to freedom and the establishment of mastery and responsibility is closed to him, he must seek to develop whatever misshapen substitutes he can. Al­though he seems to be in control, actually he is at the mercy of his environment even more than the poor kid who never gets what he wants, but at least is allowed to work for it.

By working, even if for little reward, the poor boy learns about goals, which is the first step to gaining a sense of control over one’s world—and the longer he lives with them before he can satisfy them, the keener do these goals become. Contrast that with the spoiled brat whose major mis­fortune may be that he does not have the wherewithal out of which goals are built.

Spoiled Child Psychology

Richard Weaver characterizes the attitude of the urban masses—those targets of the Welfare State—as “spoiled child psychology.” “The spoiled child,” Weaver says, “has not been made to see the re­lationship between effort and re­ward. He wants things, but he re­gards payment as an imposition or as an expression of malice by those who withhold for it.”

Here it is necessary to distin­guish the often idle and usually sluggish feeling that the spoiled child interprets as a “want,” from the deep-seated craving for inde­pendence and a sense of control. “Spoiled-child wants” are corrup­tions of real wants, which are at once the instrument and by-prod­uct of mental and physical growth. While the unspoiled child wants the things of life that will enable him to exercise and develop his skills of responsibility and in­tegrity, the spoiled child wants (or thinks he wants) the things of death which deprive him of the need of making an effort or of overcoming an obstacle, of making a sacrifice or of encountering a strange and possibly demanding situation. The unspoiled child may want the freedom of a pony and a sleeping bag. The spoiled child wants the opiate of his television “programs.”

With the constant contraction of real physical and mental free­dom—which always requires ef­fort, struggle, and competition—the spoiled child grows into the semblance of manhood without the maturity and sense of responsi­bility that only freedom can build into his life. The basic yearning for control over his world is likely to remain strong within him, but he will lack the skills to make it effective. And in the face of the repeated buffets of fate now brought on, in one way or another, by his lack of fundamental skills, he falls a willing victim to the promises of the Welfare State to take over the role of his indulgent parents—until, as Professor Weaver says, “he is unfitted for struggle of any kind.”

As Weaver adds: “The truth is that he has never been brought to see what it is to be a man. That man is the product of discipline and of forging, that he really owes thanks for the pulling and tugging that enables him to grow—this concept left the manuals of edu­cation with the advent of Romanti­cism.”

Strength Through Struggle

Yes, this has disappeared as a concept of formal education. But all men still recognize in their hearts that they can grow and de­velop only through a constant in­teraction between the individual and a recalcitrant environment, in which he—or something within him—tries to assert mastery. Only thus can acts of heroism, self-sac­rifice, lifetime devotion to a cause, personal integrity be explained. It also explains—or perhaps is an­other way of regarding—the seek­ing of man for God. Distorted and frustrated, it drives men to drink, to crime, to suicide, to atheism.

The Welfare State promises to help its citizens. And it does “help” them. But do men really want help—at least the kind that tends to diminish their own ability to con­trol their world for themselves? Not long ago Vollie Tripp pointed out how often “the helping hand” is dashed aside by intended bene­ficiaries.2

Nor do men necessarily want to be on the giving rather than the receiving end of “the helping hand.” Except in cases of charity, or where a state of immaturity is implicitly understood, men want exchange, not the giving or re­ceiving of help. (Even the best cases of charity are exchanges; what individual, worthy of the name, does not feel himself amply repaid by the very opportunity to relieve genuine distress on the part of another individual—also worthy of that calling? And the giving of care and time and energy to one’s children is surely an ex­change, not only in the increase of joy it brings, but also in its teach­ing of responsibility to the parent—who is thereby enabled to fulfill his destiny.) The freer the ex­change, the more fully can the in­dividual feel a sense of real com­munity and communication—and that now, at last, he is a man among men, and recognized as such. This is “happiness” and “well-being.”

Weakness Encouraged

The Welfare State is a fraud. It promises to promote happiness, but instead brutally diminishes it. Farmers do not really enjoy being given money for not growing crops; it runs counter to their deepest sense of being. Unem­ployed men do not enjoy receiving checks for no work. Recipients of “free” medical care do not enjoy their increasing lack of a feeling of control and responsibility for their own destinies—which may be what they were suffering from in the first place. Those who are singled out to be the beneficiaries of “free” education, or “free” lunches, without any sense of hav­ing earned them other than by be­ing poor and a “deserving case,” have suffered on balance a net initial handicap. In the future, whenever the going gets hard, they will be haunted by the mem­ory that they can always give up—and, merely by surrendering their birthright as an individual, accept the easy way out. Even to keep this temptation under control will divert energies that should be used creatively.

There is nothing “free” about one-sided help. It is paid for in the victim’s loss of self-respect, and it cultivates the weaknesses in his nature that it may be the purpose of life to overcome.

Foot Notes

1 Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Conse­quences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948. See Chapter VI. This and succeeding quotations are from pp. 113 and 114.

2 Vollie Tripp, “The Helping Hand,” The Freeman, May 1959.