The Coastal Post - March, 1997

Whose Welfare? At Whose Expense?

By Frank Scott

In order to create a welfare program that works for the future, we need to face what it actually has been in the past. Aiding physically helpless people is one thing, but a program that helps rationalize growing numbers of people made helpless by our political economics is quite another. And that, unfortunately, describes welfare as we've known it.

The social services have always been about maintaining a system, and masking its contradictory need for great poverty in order to sustain great wealth. Changes within capitalism have brought an assault on social programs, but these often nasty changes should not further confuse us. Liberal welfare has always acted as a facade behind which economic cruelty could continue.

People of good will have fought to help the poor and preserve the system, but that does not change the reality of its failure. Sustaining poverty is not the same as ending it. No one should feel guilty about this, since guilt is the business of religion or law, and welfare should be about social responsibility.

Whether present demonology labels us heartless conservatives or bleeding heart liberals, we're all responsible. The welfare program was only meant to apply private bandages to a gushing social wound, and to send the bill for the bandages to those who can least afford to pay. Unless we understand that, we will do nothing more than create another supply of private-profit making bandages for a public sector wound that will bleed even more in the future.

The majority of Americans have seen their wages frozen or in decline during a twenty year period of assault by global economic forces. Roughly 80 percent of Americans are paying for a welfare system that ultimately costs them more with its failure, and is most costly to the poor people it is supposed to help. Roughly 20% of Americans are getting away with murder - bloody murder for the top 1 or 2 percent - by paying relatively little, but reaping benefits from welfare's tendency to maintain a cosmetically prosperous looking society, if you stay out of the toxic garbage dump, the ghetto and the prison camp.

Unless we do something about the inequality of wealth and income in America, we will do nothing to change welfare. It ought to be a program designed to phase itself out of existence. All those locked out of the mainstream should be brought in by a certain date , at which point the program would end, except for those physically or mentally unable to support themselves. That cannot happen without serious changes in our political economics .

Market based corporate health care needs to become a single-payer national insurance system that covers everybody, regardless of income, race or sex. Inequality of opportunity in employment and housing must end. Labels like "homeless" need to become more honest labels like unemployed, with education and child care programs that get people jobs, housing and a real chance at success.

The present welfare system makes as much sense as annual holiday drives to help the unfortunate, and then forget them for the rest of the year. People are manipulated into thinking that a gesture of kindness at Xmas time will somehow amend a system of year- round cruelty. We cannot afford to be so naive if we would serve all the people , and not simply set one group against another just below them, as has been the recent case. This, while the group at the top that warrants our attention goes unquestioned.

Any argument that there is not enough money for the vast public programs we need is ridiculous. We are the richest nation in the history of the world. Privately, we spend billions on our pets, cosmetics, conceits and fancies. Publicly, we spend hundreds of billions - and are in debt for trillions more - to support the insanity of a permanent warfare state. The problem is a matter of priorities, not a lack of funds. If we truly want to move people out of poverty and misfortune, then we must change our priorities from being private-profit obsessed, to being public-benefit oriented.

A higher minimum wage and a shorter work week will create greater social benefit than the giving of insufficient funds to a single mother so she can stay in the projects and watch soap operas until her child is old enough to get on welfare. This is the kind of maintenance of misery we have endured for too long. Conservatives have attacked a program that should have been ended by liberals. Now it's time to set society in a new direction, towards real humanity and caring, which must extend to the great majority of taxpayers if it is to truly help the poorest among us.

A restructured tax system that changes the balance of inequality is necessary to provide much of the funding. A private sector currently downswing its work force to create more profits cannot be expected to

provide the massive programs we need. They must come from a newer, stronger and more dedicated public sector, which will ultimately benefit all of society, including business.

The blame game scapegoating of present policies causes continued isolation of a potential majority in identity-focused minorities, while highlighting the worst aspects of the American character. The best aspects of that character will show themselves, but only if we act with real compassion and responsibility. That means changing the values of the political economic system , and not just its welfare program.