Social programs hurt those they are meant to help

Dennis Mikolay Contributor
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One of the great things about the United States is that everyone here has the ability to develop their own unique political ideals. Given that each individual is essentially allowed to craft his or her own identity, it shouldn’t be surprising that some people’s worldviews are factually challenged.

During one of my recent forays into the New Jersey political landscape, I met one such individual. This fellow’s worldview was so bizarre it seems almost incomprehensible that somebody could actually adhere to it. And yet, I am sure he is not alone: his views seem to typify the ideas espoused by the politically ignorant.

The event in question occurred while I was volunteering for the Reform Party of New Jersey at a local street fair in a rather affluent section of the Garden State. An individual who later revealed himself to be a teacher approached our table and began to question why we, as a new political party, would dare support a fiscally conservative platform?

While I respect opposing political ideas, this individual’s rationale for opposing our platform had such little basis in reality that I began to question whether he was actually being serious.

“We shouldn’t cut social programs,” the man said. “They are working so well; we have almost completely eliminated poverty in the United States…we are so close to completely ridding the country of poverty!”

Now, it doesn’t take a sociologist or an economist to recognize that poverty exists in the United States. We are an incredibly wealthy nation, and thus poverty in America isn’t marked by the same desperation as it is in other countries; however, it is certainly still an issue. Had this fellow ever visited Newark, Camden, or any of the many cities where crime and poverty are a daily occurrence? Surely he didn’t believe that our state was moments away from completely eradicating poverty?

Unfortunately, he made it very clear that not only did he believe poverty was no longer a sizeable problem in the United States, he credited the government with eliminating it. He went on to claim that not only should taxes be raised to support more government programs, but that the average individual actually wants to shell out more of their income in the name of government charity.

It’s easy for individuals who live in wealthy areas to assume that the entire country is as well-to-do as their communities are. These are individuals a friend of mine sarcastically refers to as “We are the World Democrats” — individuals who, by living sheltered lives, believe that the government somehow has an obligation (and the financial means) to lift large groups of people out of poverty. They have never seen the failures of government charity and thus don’t recognize the futility of most social programs.

The truth is that government programs almost never work. When Uncle Sam tries to raise his people out of destitute situations, he usually inadvertently hurts them.

As John Stossel noted in his book Give Me a Break, if one is seeking evidence that government programs are abysmal failures, look no further than public housing.

Housing projects were meant to rejuvenate inner cities. The argument was that if the government gave low-income residents modern abodes, they would be able to get back on their feet. The reality was far less inspiring; these “projects” came to symbolize the absolute worst of urban life — crime, drugs, prostitution, violence, arson. The buildings deteriorated quickly, as did the quality of life of those who dwelled in them.

But the problem doesn’t end with public housing. The same can be said for welfare programs. What was originally intended to temporarily aid individuals in dire financial situations has become a crutch. And don’t forget the Native Americans, the most poverty-stricken group in the United States. Their reservations are plagued by drug addiction, alcoholism, suicide, and financial aridity. How is it that these once-prosperous people now experience such hardships? It’s because they no longer enjoy true sovereignty; their well-being is entrusted to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, an entity that has been “helping” the natives since 1824.

All of these addictive programs perpetuate dependence but never inspire people to better themselves. They breed reliance, keeping people poor — the exact opposite of what they were intended to do.

I stated earlier that America’s poor are not nearly as bad off as those in third-world countries. That is not, however, because of the government. The exact opposite is true. America is wealthy because for the better part of the nation’s history the government simply got out of the way. This allowed for social mobility and opportunity. That is how the immigrants who came to this country in the early 1900s were able to achieve financial security, thus enabling their children and grandchildren to enter the middle class.

One can only hope that a certain New Jersey teacher takes the time to reacquaint himself with American history. While social programs are usually started with noble intentions, the truth is that they hurt those they are meant to help. Hopefully this teacher will come to this realization before he spreads the message of big government to his students.

Dennis “DJ” Mikolay is a political columnist and author from Long Branch, NJ. He is a co-founder of the Reform Party of New Jersey.