Missing the Real Issue on Welfare

Review of Phil Harvey and Lisa Conyers, The Human Cost of Welfare: How the System Hurts the People It’s Supposed to Help (Praeger, 2016), xv + 206 pgs.

The Human Cost of Welfare is a welcome book, an important book, and a needed book—even if it does miss the real issue when it comes to welfare. It is also a good book—until you get to the authors’ proposals in the last chapter.

Phil Harvey, the author of several other books, is chairman of the board of DKT International, “which provides family planning and HIV/AIDS prevention programs in 20 nations,” and the chief sponsor of the DKT Liberty Project, “an advocacy group that raises awareness about liberty and freedom in the United States.” Lisa Conyers is director of policy studies for the DKT Liberty Project.

The Human Cost of Welfare is about “how welfare impacts the lives and happiness of welfare recipients themselves.” It explores “what has gone wrong with our current welfare programs and how they actually work before outlining many ways to improve the welfare system.” After “living and working with the poor in many parts of the world,” the authors’ “found it easy enough to see that humans everywhere were happier when they were self- The Human Cost of Welf... Phil Harvey, Lisa Conyers Best Price: $26.65 Buy New $37.45 (as of 05:25 EDT - Details) sufficient.” They then realized that “people receiving welfare payments in the United States often seemed less satisfied with their lives than many people in developing nations who were getting no financial aid and who were doing backbreaking work to survive.”

To write the book, the authors “visited with more than 100 men and women around the country whose lives are, or were, sustained by welfare programs.” They met not a single welfare recipient “who had anything positive to say about the programs they were on”— programs rife with redundancy, incompetence, fraud, decay, and disarray, that were unresponsive, inflexible, and illogical.

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Harvey and Conyers concluded that our current welfare system is a “harmful” system that traps people, deadens their spirit, undermines their morale, and takes them “down a path that leads away from work and away from the chance for a satisfying life.”

After a brief introduction that includes succinct summaries of each of the book’s thirteen chapters, the book is divided into four parts:

  1. The Welfare Conflict
  2. The Counterproductive Qualifications for Welfare
  3. Welfare Programs in Theory and in Fact
  4. Building Blocks for a Better Welfare System

The Human Cost of Welfare also contains a foreword by Jonathan Rauch, acknowledgments, notes, a bibliography, and an index. It is nicely supplemented by 23 figures, 9 tables, and 11 appendices.

Chapter after chapter of the book chronicle the failures of the welfare system and the dependency it creates. Everything is documented with facts and figures. The book is well organized, with whole chapters on TANF, housing subsidies, food stamps, WIC, disability programs, Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Nevertheless, in spite of the light it shines on the nature of our current welfare system, The Human Cost of Welfare misses the real issue: welfare in all of its forms should be eliminated, not reformed, not made more efficient, not made less costly. Here are some reasons why. King James, His Bible,... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $14.39 Buy New $19.95 (as of 04:00 EDT - Details)

  1. The Constitution does not authorize the federal government to institute welfare programs or give the states block grants to operate welfare programs.
  1. It is not a legitimate purpose of government to fund or operate welfare programs, fight poverty, subsidize anyone’s wages, help the disabled, provide job training, or aid “the poor.”
  1. It is immoral to take money from some Americans and transfer it to other Americans—even if the government is doing the taking.
  1. No one is entitled to receive welfare benefits no matter what his situation or how much he “needs” the money.
  1. “The rich” have no legal obligation to help “the poor,” no matter how much money some government bureaucrat or private busybody thinks that “the rich” ought to fork over.
  1. Charity should always be private and voluntary.

Once these things are recognized, then, and only then, should plans and proposals be introduced—not to reform the system or make it more efficient or less costly—but to eliminate it as quickly and humanely as possible.

Because The Human Cost of Welfare misses the real issue when it comes to welfare, the authors’ proposals in their last chapter (“What Should Be Done: From Incentives to Special Savings Accounts, Solutions Abound to Get Americans Back to Work”) are not entirely satisfactory.

Harvey and Conyers do have some good things to say about the federal government:

  • eliminating or reducing FICA taxes,
  • eliminating or reducing the corporate income tax,
  • requiring work for benefits, War, Christianity, and... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $5.95 Buy New $9.95 (as of 03:45 EDT - Details)
  • making welfare pay less than work,
  • stop paying recruiters to sign people up for welfare benefits,
  • backing off on onerous regulations,
  • easing up on employer mandates, and
  • stopping incarcerating people for nonviolent “no-complaint” crimes.

They also say that states should eliminate “dysfunctional licensing requirements.”

What is not satisfactory is the authors’ proposals for the federal government to:

  • expand the Earned Income Tax Credit,
  • subsidize the wages of low-income workers,
  • pay a wage subsidy to employers,
  • give Opportunity Grants to the states representing the cost of 11 federal programs,
  • raise the earnings cap for all welfare programs,
  • promote birth control,
  • favor accurate sex education,
  • help workers find work by paying them to move, and
  • provide a guaranteed basic income.

Since their proposal to “privatize welfare” only presents the elimination of all government welfare and the institution of private charity as one possibility, most of it must be rejected as well. Especially objectionable is the suggestion that “early-trimester abortions should be paid for by any program that reimburses the costs of low-income women’s basic or reproductive health care.”

Welfare is destructive, and The Human Cost of Welfare provides abundant proof. But welfare has another cost as well, a hidden cost that makes it immoral on its face—the money given by the government must first be taken from taxpayers.