Individual Welfare or Public Funding?

As I was doing my daily routine of checking the news headlines, I stumbled upon an article out of the state of Michigan that addressed the issue of Welfare. The article acknowledges that many people are running out of Welfare and are hitting their lifetime limit of funding from the government. On October 1st, 2011, the lifetime limits became much more restrictive than in the past. The adjustment forced many people to have either exceeded their personal limit or now face a difficult situation in which they have come to the realization that they don’t have much more money coming their way. The article from a writer out of Saginaw, Michigan, explains how people are being issued notices instructing them to appeal the restrictions on welfare. One thing going through my head the entire time I was reading this article was why is the government even supplying welfare?

After discussing the idea of public goods versus private goods in lecture the other day, referencing the writings of Ackelsberg and Shanley, I thought this news article was relevant and wanted to open up the discussion to include welfare. Before we can address whether or not the government should be providing welfare, we need to outline the differences between a public good and a private good.  Martha Ackelsberg and Mary Shanley detail this fine line in “Privacy, Publicity, and Power.” Aristotle’s theory seems to offer a controversial take on the public/private distinction:

Defining the public (or political) arena as the realm where free and equal citizens engage in striving together toward the common good, distinguished it from the private domain, which, he argued, was characterized by relationships of inequality, dependence, and concern for meeting the necessities of life.

I have heard arguments on both sides that the welfare program is designed for the common good (a public good if we go along with this definition) and that it was also required to meet the “necessities of life” (private). Though, over time, liberal theorists have adjusted the boundary around the powers of the government. Liberalism, where every aspect of life is private to protect people from unjust power, has it faults because there are some things that the government needs to control. At the same time, I agree with Millian Liberalism, where all aspects are private except the economy, jobs, and education; which is necessary because individuals cannot provide these large goods themselves. However, I feel that welfare, specifically, blends in between the different aspects of life (i.e. economy, jobs and family life ) and crosses between public and private. To pick a side, I do not feel that providing welfare fits into the public spectrum, even after taking the arguments of Ackelsberg and Shanley into account. Another article I read puts private goods in a different light, describing them as those for which people are in competition to consume, and are used up as a result. Income,  and any fortunes and physical or mental well-being resulting from money, constitute as private goods. The government handing out a finite resource like money involves the government regulating the private spectrum, something that shouldn’t be accepted in society. ” The ‘private’ domain seems to have been to set limits on state power”, as written in the Ackelsberg and Shanley reading, and this is a case where the state power should be limited.

The system was created with the intention of helping those in need, but the welfare system has been taken advantage of. Many who do not deserve assistance are the ones receiving it and taking advantage of it. You just have to read the news to see people having more children to get more funding, get a Bridge card even if they don’t absolutely need it, and live off of Welfare knowing they will collect as long as they do not have a job. Well, the implementation of this restricted limit has thwarted the attempts of those who wish to take advantage of the system. The ones who I feel should collect are the hard-working individuals who have proven they are trying to find a better job and just haven’t had any success. The system is not meant for those who do not contribute to society. But, because of these people, hard-working tax payers are forced to pay for others to sit on the couch, unemployed. It brings me to a vital question for society: should the government continue to fund the Welfare program or not? Is it a public good that should be provided by the government or is welfare something people privately need to be responsible for?

Controversial welfare message that describes the program as stealing from others.

Even though my clear political opinion on welfare is evident in this post, where does the Welfare program fall in terms of public and private goods in your opinion? If it is a public good, should these finer limitations be imposed on welfare to force people to find jobs or other means of income? If you think it is a private good, should the welfare program altogether be eliminated, or just kept for those who hold a job but still fall below the poverty line? The bottom line is this: there is a blending of the lines between public goods and private goods when it comes to welfare. This is why this issue will be debated for years to come, and many will debate whether it is even within the role of the government.

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6 Comments on “Individual Welfare or Public Funding?”

  1. Brian Hall Says:

    Welfare is always a touchy subject for a variety of reasons. Most importantly is the notion that people living on welfare are somehow living the highlife. One need only listen to Glenn Beck for 5 minutes to hear how spoiled welfare brats are ruining this country. The reality, of course, is that food stamps are insufficient to provide food for the full month in most cases, and the living conditions on government handouts are atrocious. I’m not saying that many of the people taking advantage of welfare necessarily deserve better, but it’s something to consider in terms of your attitude towards the treatment of other human beings. There are simply too many people and not enough jobs with a living wage out there to support them all. What we do about this problem is incredibly important. The social darwinist in me says “Let them rot, and decrease the surplus population”. But then, that sort of human rights violation would put us somewhere near Mozambique in the Human Development Index.

    Clearly the existance of Welfare encourages laziness in many instances; people with job skills, or who could work at McDonald’s (let’s assume they live in a shelter or with a massive family in one house and all of their income is spent on food so we could call minimum wage a living wage here) might just be inclined to sit on their ass and do nothing. I am not debating this at all. However, I will say that something needs to be done about the overpopulation. My own personal pet idea is that the government would slowly replace welfare with a population reduction incentive: offer people money not to have children, or else have fewer children. For example, they receive a set stipend per month as long as they have 1 or fewer children. They must fall into a certain income bracket (as in, no income or below the poverty line) in order for this policy to apply. This would essentially disincentivize the lowest rung of society from perpetuating its lack of opportunity through another generation of welfare children. If we combined this with substantial barriers to immigration (think: only able to get in if you have a bachelor’s degree equivalent or above, and crack down on illegal immigration), we might see a reduction to a more sustainable and happy population of 250,000,000. Obviously this sort of policy would be anathema to many groups within the country, as it would vaguely threaten to destroy family values (in the minds of some) and almost certainly entail a huge increase in abortions. That’s not to mention the people who would cry racism, considering that the vast majority of people affected would be black or hispanic (though only incidentally, not by design of course). Such is the nature of the problem.

  2. Imodu Kerobo Says:

    From my point of view, welfare is a public good – established to improve the overall quality of life in our society. There are, in fact, many people who need it and many people who, unfortunately, take advantage of welfare programs. Now, deciding whether it is the right thing for our government to do is the more important question.

    Many opponents of welfare believe it instills complacency among individuals who receive those benefits. As such, it further hurts individuals, although it may assist them financially. Are recipients of welfare in a better position to help themselves and add value to society with the aid of welfare checks? Even if they are, do they know how to effectively add value? For those who believe welfare programs should be eliminated, the adverse effects should be strongly considered. Increased crime rates, more homeless people on the street, more socio-economically disadvantaged individuals unable to secure minimum wage jobs, increased birth rates, etc. With this in mind, can society correct itself or will this cycle perpetuate? Will it lead to the imprisonment of more people (and thus, more tax dollars flowing to the prison system)?

    On the other hand, many Americans believe it is the right thing for our government to do. Many are concerned with helping people who are less privileged and believe welfare programs can help individuals get back on their feet. Many Americans are not able to find jobs, especially given the economic situation our country is currently in. But to what extent should individuals be helped? Is there a clear place where the line should be drawn? Will limiting the amount of benefits actually mitigate the abuse of the welfare system?

    I believe there needs to be some type of program put in place to closely screen applicants and continually review the cases of current welfare recipients. With a system like this, abusers of welfare may be easily identified. But this presents another problem: who is to say that one individual should receive benefits over another individual? How do we normalize this screening and reviewing process across the country to make sure it is equitable?

    Lastly, if welfare programs are a private good, who is in a better position to fund these programs other than the government? The private sector is definitely not the answer.

  3. Jordan Wylie Says:

    I believe that welfare is a public good. With that being said, I believe the government has been awarding welfare a little to liberally. The idea behind welfare is very noble I think. We help those people who are in a hard place and just need a little boost. They accept help and then supposedly will find a job. Eventually they will repay the aid they received from their taxes. Sadly, people see welfare as a free pass. If they can’t get a job, just fill out a form and the government will give you cash instead. In 2009 the government paid $56 billion on the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) (

    I don’t have to tell you that $56 billion is a LOT of money. Like I said, I think the SNAP is a noble program, but when people take advantage of it, it makes everyone else who is blindly paying for the program look like idiots. I think the government should continue the program, but they need to place stronger criteria for obtaining welfare. There are obviously people who are ill (physically or mentally) who are unable to work or secure a job. However, I still don’t believe this should mean they freely receive money. They should partake in some sort of rehabilitation program so they are not simply a drain on society. There has to be something for people to do, whether its volunteer work or something. As for people who refuse to get a job, then refuse to give them money. I think there should be some sort of a time frame. People can receive welfare but they have X amount of months to get a job or another source of income.

    What drives me mad are the students who apply for EBT or Bridge Cards. These cards are basically food stamps, but students view them as free money where they can buy their groceries and then the money they would have normally spent on food can go towards buying booze. Obviously not all students take advantage of the system, some students genuinely need the assistance since they are paying for school themselves. However, an overwhelming majority are not this honest and hardworking. For college students receiving food stamps/welfare there has to be even stricter requirements to make sure we sort out the losers from those who truly need the help.

    If the government ever proposed to get rid of welfare I’d be very upset. The program was put in place to help those who can’t help themselves. The government just needs to step is up and make sure the money they are handing out is going to those who can’t help themselves, not to the people who won’t help themselves.

  4. ianbaker2041 Says:

    Welfare is something that has, from a political perspective, fallen to the wayside in the last few years. I don’t hear much from either party regarding it, and I think it’s interesting to bring it up.

    I’ll begin by saying that I agree with your argument against welfare because the system has so many problems with it, both practical and theoretical. More so than it fostering laziness and undermining the competitive spirit of America, welfare fundamentally relies on those making a decent wage to carry those who aren’t. In a nation built around a “make it happen for yourself” mentality, I don’t see that a welfare system has a place. As you also mention, welfare intrudes on private spheres, infusing government (that is, public) money into the pockets of individual Americans. Since income and earnings are private matters, supplementing them with taxpayer money is wrong. As the role of government should be to protect the citizens and ensure that fair free markets are operating, welfare shouldn’t exist. As you also hit on via your link, the system frequently gets abused. To be sure, there are genuinely hard working Americans who, for one reason or another, have fallen on hard times or are unable to work. I get it. The problem is that people who COULD and SHOULD be supporting themselves are taking the money from the taxpayers; that’s grossly unjust. To try to put a different system into place to eliminate this problem would be all but impossible; how would you even begin to design a system that subjectively selects welfare recipients? You pretty much would have to take everyone or no one; America has chosen (I believe incorrectly) to take everyone. Since we can’t correct the system and probably shouldn’t be supporting such programs in a nation built on individual effort and personal liberties free from government oversight and control, welfare needs to be systematically removed.

    As I alluded to in my first (short) paragraph, the debate surrounding the dollars seems to have disappeared on welfare. With respect to Medicare, Medicaid, and the military, it’s true that welfare is a pretty trivial expenditure. Nonetheless, it consumes billions of dollars a year; that’s too much to simply allow it to go unchecked. Gradually reducing welfare (as the government has done here) offers a good way for us to save some excess cash in a day and age where the bureaucracy, both at the federal and state levels, seems to always need more money. I talked about it in another post about Obama and his newest jobs package, but I’ll say it here, too. Washington has a spending, not a revenue, problem, and that principle applies right back to the states, too. Removing these money vampires can only serve to help governments at all levels balance their budgets and restore fiscal responsibility to a nation desperately needing it.

    I really think that you make a strong argument against the status quo. America was most certainly founded as a conservative (in a modern day “liberal” vs “conservative” sense) nation that sought to limit government regulation. While we have sadly moved away from that vision in most of our practices, I see welfare as one of the many places that we could trim spending, streamline government, and get Americans to fend for themselves. After all, there is no such thing as a “free lunch.” Someone ultimately had to pay for the food in the public trough, and that person would be the American taxpayer. I don’t want my money used in such a way, and I don’t expect others to use theirs on me in that way, either.

  5. ngamin1614 Says:

    This is a really interesting post. Sorry if I don’t answer your question directly, but you should be able to figure out my point of view as I discuss this topic. Welfare is most certainly a good thing. I really do appreciate the concept behind it, and I do not think it should be eliminated because it obviously helps a lot of people. However, there should be some kind of time limit of how long you can have welfare.

    People who are unemployed can sometimes abuse welfare in my opinion. With welfare, as others have said, there is an incentive to not worry about finding a job. I mean, the government is supporting you, so why even look for a job today when getting a job is already very difficult in the first place. I really hate to sound harsh like this, I really do, but something has to change. It’s not exactly fair to abuse tax dollars like some people do. Putting a limit on how long people can receive welfare will provide more incentive for people to be productive and try to find a job. It’s really unfortunate, but instead of working for min. wage, people will just use welfare.

    The problem is, the cycle just goes on and on and on. People who abuse welfare and other things like social housing will have kids and those kids will grow up in that environment and they may begin to believe that that is all there really is to life. There’s really no way to stop it.

    Pros to welfare: you don’t have starving families out there
    Cons to welfare: the abuses that I discussed above.

    Overall, I’m of the opinion that the cons unfortunately outweigh the pros. However, once again, I will say that welfare should not be eliminated, instead there should just be a time limit as to how long you are eligible to receive welfare.

  6. maddycaroline Says:

    In my opinion, I believe that welfare is a private good being ‘produced’ (in using the goods metaphor) by the public. In theory, the concept of welfare is meant to provide those who have lost their way in life with a little help getting back on their feet. However, in today’s society it is almost unavoidable that it will be abused. Like I have seen mentioned, welfare should not be cut out altogether but there should be a way to separate out those who really need it, from those who are just using it to avoid getting a job.

    While, yes, in this economy it is very hard to get a well-paying job and keep it, especially if one has lost their way, but if they do not ever try to get a job and continue to use (abuse) the welfare system then what are they truly doing in their life? They wouldn’t be providing for their families, let alone themselves or contributing to the economy, working towards improvement. The american government has to establish a way to ensure that this doesn’t happen for prolonged periods of time, for that will only be making the taxes of hard-working people worse and contributing to the economic debt this country is already suffering. Children who grow up in the welfare system can go one of two ways: they can decide that living ‘free’ is the easiest and stay in it, or they can decide that they want to make a better life for themselves and get out of that cycle, and sadly the latter seems to be occurring less and less. What is really needed is for the money going into the welfare system to be allocated, instead, to education for these children (and adults) so they will gain insight into a better life. It is well known that living off welfare isn’t a life that most people (if any) truly want to lead, however some deal with it just to avoid having to work hard and their children — and in the case of the lower classes on welfare, many children — learn this way of life and follow in the footsteps of which they have seen. These days there seem to be very little success stories where young adults have escaped from poverty by making a name for themselves such as Oprah Winfrey did decades ago. Especially in an economy such as this, even educated, highly-trained adults have problems finding jobs but that does not mean they should give up and never look for a job again because eventually there will be something for them and no matter how small, it is still a job.

    As I have seen mentioned above, I also believe that if the welfare system is to survive with success, then there has to be a time limit to which people can be using it. Those who have just lost their job but are actively looking can be easily weeded out from those who have given up altogether (or never tried in the first place). This time limit, in combination with better education for the younger generation involved in the system, would I believe begin to fix the problem of abuse america has been seeing in the welfare system.

    Either way, whether it is a private good or not, it needs to be provided by the public for otherwise there would be no incentive to give it out. No hard-working person wants to give away their money to those who won’t help themselves, even if they can’t help themselves. Publicly provided welfare is not meant to provide everlasting support, but only give slight help to those who REALLY need it. It should not be eliminated altogether but there should be a way to fix the system so it is not abused, and used to aid hard-working americans who are at low points in their lives.

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