Diagnosis for Democracy
Insights into the State of Our Union
A Blog by Rob Tenery, MD


How the Government Subsidies Will 'Break Our Bank'

By Rob Tenery, MD on August 29, 2016

“The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”

                                                                                    Thomas Jefferson

In 1966, two American sociologists, Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven*, authored an article, published in the liberal magazine, The Nation, titled, The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty. In the article, the authors advocated for an overloading of the U.S. public welfare system. Their premise was to force the Democratic Party, which, at the time, controlled the Presidency and both houses of Congress, to establish a welfare enrollment program that would precipitate a crisis leading to a replacement of the current welfare system. By adding in eligible participants who hadn’t already taken advantage of the entitlement programs, the programs would be exhausted of their resources. The only viable alternative, according to the authors, was to then replace the current programs with a national system with “a guaranteed annual income and thus an end to poverty”.

Federal entitlement programs dominate the public debate. Social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the social welfare programs of food stamps, disability and unemployment are the most widely discussed. As a share of the federal budget, entitlement spending accounted for over 60% in 2013 and is expected to rise at 5% annually for the next five years. In 1960 federal spending for these same programs was 25%.

The current labor force participation rate measures the number of Americans who have a job or who are actively seeking one. That rate is 62.8% and is at a 36-year low. 92 million Americans have dropped out of the labor force and are no longer seeking employment. When President Obama took office that number was about 80 million. Most of those are individuals who have failed to find employment or a job that pays them enough to work. Additionally, Americans on food stamps in 
January, 2009 was 31.90 million. Now, in 
November, 2015, that number had increased to 45.36 million.

With almost half of this country’s population receiving some form of government subsidy, many are predicting that the United States is becoming a welfare state.

This entitlement attitude isn’t just confined to the lower socioeconomic population. In many cases, it started with parents who couldn’t say no. With teachers who passed their students on to the next level just because they didn’t want to hurt their pupils’ self-esteem. Then it continued when they took six years to finish college, ran up debts on their credit cards that they never hoped to pay off, but still bought the big-screen television on time because they wanted one. As adults, they purchased houses they couldn’t afford to make payments on. With some legal maneuvering, they were able to avoid bankruptcy, but the bank still foreclosed on their home. They drove the latest cars and took the best vacations. Somewhere along the way, they neglected to adequately fund their 401K, or set something away in case the company they worked for decided it was time to bring in ‘new blood’ and go in a different direction. On the bright side, now that their children are over 18 and out of college, the tuition and child support payments have stopped. They are looking forward to retirement. Unfortunately, the only sure thing in their lives is the Social Security check they can begin to draw in their senior years. Unfortunately, they could be in for a surprise.

“… the most memorable time of my life,” Peggy the Moocher, as she has been named by the media, told a Florida reporter, when questioned at a rally for newly elected President Obama. “Because I never thought this day would ever happen. I won’t have to worry about putting gas in my car. I won’t have to worry about paying my mortgage. You know. If I help (Obama), he’s gonna help me.”

The important point in Peggy’s comments was not the color of her skin, but her perception as to how her country was supposed to work for her. If she gave support to the President to get him elected then she expected something in return--- not the opportunity to earn her way to a better way of life, but that these benefits, such as free gas and payments on her mortgage, would be given to her. This is the classic example of the entitlement attitude.

Contrast Peggy with Joe the Plumber, who, in a face-to-face confrontation with candidate Barak Obama, during the 2008 campaign, raised his concern that Obama’s proposed tax plan would hurt small businesses. Joe’s point-of-view was the antithesis of Peggy’s. He wanted the government out of his pocket, while she just wanted that same government to put more in her pocket.

It’s not just the Peggys of this country either. It is also the big corporations, the large donors, the lobbyists and the special interests that hire them. They want their ‘piece of the entitlement pie’ too. America’s motto, e Pluribus Unum, has given way to ‘what’s in it for me’.

One of the most significant promises by both of the major Democratic candidates for President (Clinton and Sanders) is government subsidy for college education. Add those proposed obligations of entitlement costs for higher education to the increasing burdens that illegal immigration puts on the government subsidies, and Cloward and Piven’s projected crisis model seems inevitable.

In 2010, Conservative commentator Glen Beck, when referring to Barak Obama’s economic plans, said: “You’ve got total destruction of wealth coming… It’s the final phase of the Cloward-Piven strategy, which is collapse of the system.”

* Professors and social activists at the Columbia University School of Social Work 





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