Must read Mark Steyn about the real war on children

Mark Steyn took Pete Stark’s lunatic ravings about the pseudo Republican War on children and honed in on the real issue and the real war.  After pointing out how much material wealth Graeme Frost’s family has (jobs, homes, cars), yet it still demands free health insurance funded by those less wealthy, Steyn wrapped up with this point:

The Frosts are not emblematic of the health care needs of America so much as they are of the delusion of the broader Western world. They expect to be able to work “part-time” and “intermittently” but own two properties and three premium vehicles and have the state pick up health care costs. Who do you stick with the bill? Four-car owners? Much of France already lives that way: A healthy, wealthy, well-educated populace works a mandatory maximum 35-hour week with six weeks of paid vacation and retirement at 55 and with the government funding all the core responsibilities of adult life.

I’m in favor of tax credits for child health care, and Health Savings Accounts for adults, and any other reform that emphasizes the citizen’s responsibility to himself and his dependents. But middle-class entitlement creep would be wrong even if was affordable, even if Bill Gates wrote a check to cover it every month: it turns free-born citizens into enervated wards of the Nanny State. As Gerald Ford likes to say when trying to ingratiate himself with conservative audiences, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have.” But there’s an intermediate stage: A government big enough to give you everything you want isn’t big enough to get you to give any of it back. As I point out in my book, nothing makes a citizen more selfish than socially equitable communitarianism: Once a fellow’s enjoying the fruits of Euro-style entitlements, he couldn’t give a hoot about the general societal interest; he’s got his, and who cares if it’s going to bankrupt the state a generation hence?

That’s the real “war on children”: in Europe, it’s killing their future. Don’t make the same mistake here.

Ants and Grasshoppers

You all remember the Aesop’s fable about the Ant and Grasshopper, don’t you? That’s the one where the Ant works hard all year, while the Grasshopper just dances around. When winter comes, the Ant is comfortable in his warm, well-stocked home, while the Grasshopper is miserable and hungry. Or maybe you know the story of the Little Red Hen. She keeps asking for help as she plants her seeds, waters her wheat stalks, harvests the wheat, and bakes her bread loaf. To each request for help, her lazy farm companions say “no.” Then, when her bread is finally baked, they ask her to feed them, to which she replies “no.” These are both old stories. Aesop’s fable is probably about 6,500 years old, while the Little Red Hen story is at least a hundred years old and probably much more. The stories are blatantly moralistic: if you work hard, you will be fed and sheltered; if you don’t, you won’t.

We all know, of course, that life is not fair and that hard work will not always provide you with life’s necessities. Bad things happen: lost jobs, war, illness, drought, economic disasters, and other things over which even the hardest working individual has no control. And I believe that those of us who are in a more comfortable position have a moral obligation to take care of those who are victims of things over which they have no control. BUT (you knew there was going to be a “but” here, didn’t you?)….

But, lately I feel as if we, the hard working middle class, are being asked to take care of people, not who are victims of ill-fortune, but who are victims of their own bad choices. Right now, this issue is playing out on the macro field, with the S-CHIP debate. Or, more specifically, with the discovery that the boy whom the Democrats chose as the spokesman for imposing S-CHIP costs on working Americans is, in fact, from a middle class family whose father is following his employment bliss (that is, he has made the choice not to get a steady job) and who decided not to get insurance, even though he could afford it. That is, Dad made the choice but we, the American taxpayers, are being asked to pay for the consequences of his bad decision making.

I understand that it’s not the child’s fault that his parents make lousy decisions. But really, if we’re being asked to pay because the Dad is a dunderhead, maybe we should get more control over the situation. We have to assume that this Dad will make more and more choices that negatively affect his children and for which we, the taxpayers, then have to pay. (I think we can make this assumption because Dad is not apologetic about and has not learned from his choices. He’s instead using them to suck up wealth from people who, apparently foolishly, opted to work hard and be self-reliant.) Since he who pays the piper calls the tune, maybe we should take these children and put them in a home where the parents have proven track records of good choices? Eh. You’re right. I don’t think anyone is going to go for that. But really and truly, I don’t want to be called upon to pay for bad choices, without any ability to force those same people into making good choices that will cost me less.

I happen to be very sensitive about this issue because of my own life experience. Years ago, when I was a young, idealistic lawyer whose gay friends were dying left and right from AIDS, I got involved with a free legal service for people suffering from AIDS. My training consisted of attending several hours of lectures about helping these people maximize their Social Security, Medicare and Medical benefits to pay for their expensive treatments and other life needs. I never once put that training into use. I had about 15 referrals over the two years I stuck it out in that program and, without exception, the men who called on my free services were absolute flakes whose only skill was using the system to avoid paying for the messes they made. All had (or probably had) AIDS, but the illness was entirely unrelated to their demands on me. What they wanted me to do was relieve them of their obligations to pay rent or credit card debt. And they didn’t need this help because their disease had rendered them unemployable. All of them worked, and all of them, grasshopper-like, spent their money on drugs, alcohol, clubbing, clothes, trips, etc. Indeed, they spent their income on anything but rent and paying off all the debts they incurred supporting their hedonistic lifestyle. I became incredibly hostile to the whole organization, feeling (rightly, I think) that I was being used, and quit.

Ironically, as I was providing free legal services to these deadbeats, a friend of mine was slowly dying from AIDS and working himself to the bone to keep up with his obligations. He worked when he could hardly walk because of the mushroom shaped tumors bursting out from the bottom of his foot. He worked when he could hardly stand upright because if the giardia ravaging his system. He worked when all his hair fell out. He kept his health insurance alive to the bitter end, with the only government help coming from MediCal augmentations to his insurance. I gladly loaned this man money when he needed it. When he had to sell the little boat on which he lived to pay all of his debts, he insisted on paying me back, even though I tried to refuse the money. At the very end, a friend of his took him in, and he spent his last weeks dying slowly on that friend’s couch. These two men were Ants, and they’ve always lived in my memory two of the most decent, moral people I’ve ever met.

I appreciate that, once a bureaucracy is in place, it won’t, or can’t, distinguish between ants and grasshoppers. All it will do is means testing. That is, once someone shows up at the bureau’s door and proves he has no money, the inquiry stops. The bureaucracy won’t and can’t take the time to discover whether his money vanished because his employer laid him off (despite his being a good worker) and his kid has a horrible disease, or if his money vanished because he’s an unemployable flake who can’t be bothered to hold down a job, but who still likes living the high life. We pay for them all. But to the extent we do pay for them all, I want to be damn sure that every new government program is carefully crafted to pay for extremely limited services and that it is set up, as much as possible, to help the Ants, while shutting the door on those damn Grasshoppers. S-CHIP, which is casting an ever wider net of those for whom the taxpayers must pay is the antithesis of what an Ant-oriented government program should be.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin has more on the Frost family (the S-CHIP family), in which a neighbor makes it plain that they are the ultimate Grasshoppers — although it appears that they are Ant enough, after having lived the high life, to rouse themselves to milk the system for their benefit.

UPDATE II:  Leave it to Mark Steyn to distill the Grasshopper lifestyle into a few pithy phrases:

At which point should the government pick up the tab? Ultimately it’s a reductive notion of liberty to say a free-born citizen can choose his own breakfast cereal and DVD rentals and cable package and, in the case of the Frosts, three premium vehicles, but demand the government take responsibility for all the grown-up stuff.

Non-contributing immigrants

Here in America, we are (rightly) unhappy about illegal immigrants who instantly sign up for all the welfare benefits they can get. Of course, they’d be stupid not to, because only a fool says no to free money. Also, I don’t think any of us doubt that the immigrants who come here, legal or illegal, mostly work and they work hard. After all, it’s the meat packing business and agribusiness who are most aggressive in encouraging immigration, legal or illegal, because these are the people who fill their factories and their fields.

Britain has the same thing: most immigrants work (in fact, they work more than the British themselves), but large numbers of them do sign up for the dole. In that, they’re just like American immigrants.  What’s really interesting in Britain, though, and quite different from the situation here, is that the immigrants who make the greatest demands on welfare are Muslims:

Labour’s favourite thinktank yesterday named the migrant groups which are a drain on the taxpayer.

Immigrants from Somalia, Turkey, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Iran are most likely to be out of work and claiming state benefits, it said.

There tend to be high numbers of asylum seekers among those groups who have failed to take advantage of the opportunities offered by Britain’s open economy, a study found.

It’s important to remember that the study does not say that all Muslims in Britain are on the dole. It does say, though, that, of all immigrants who arrived in the UK and get on the dole, it’s the Muslim immigrants who suck up welfare in disproportionate numbers.

Right about now, you’re shrugging your shoulders and asking, “so what?”  Every country has its people who need, use, or abuse welfare, and in Britain its Muslims.  To single them out sounds nothing more than homophobic.  True, except for one weird unique wrinkle about Muslims when it comes to welfare in Western countries, something that’s summed up in a single word:  jizya.

You don’t know what jizya is? Mark Steyn defines it:

The jizya is the poll tax paid by non-Muslims to their Muslim betters. One cause of the lack of economic innovation in the Islamic world is that they’ve always placed the main funding burden of society on infidels. This goes back to Mohammed’s day. If you take a bunch of warring Arab tribes and unite them as one umma under Allah, one drawback is that you close off a prime source of revenue — fighting each other and then stealing each other’s stuff. That’s why the Prophet, while hardly in a position to deny Islam to those who wished to sign up, was relatively relaxed about the presence of non-Muslim peoples within Muslim lands: they were a revenue stream. If one looks at the comparative dissemination patterns, Christianity spread by acquiring believers and then land; Islam spread by acquiring land and then believers. When Islam conquered infidel territory, it set in motion a massive transfer of wealth, enacting punitive taxation to transfer money from non-believers to Muslims — or from the productive part of the economy to the non-productive. It was, in its way, a prototype welfare society. When admirers talk up Islam and the great innovations and rich culture of its heyday, they forget that even at its height Muslims were never more than a minority of the Muslim world, and they were in large part living off the energy of others. That’s still a useful rule of thumb: if you take the least worst Muslim societies, the reason for the dynamism often lies with whichever group they share the turf with — the Chinese in Malaysia, for example.

(Mark Steyn, America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, p. 164.)

Both Bruce Bawer’s While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within and Melanie Phillips’ Londonistan, make the point that welfare fraud is an Islamist speciality, not just to avoid work, but because the Islamists believe welfare paid for by the Christians around them is their due. That is, they differ from the usual welfare scammer who just wants free money. These are people who believe that they are using Europe’s and Britain’s own welfare systems to recreate the poll tax that non-Muslims are obligated to pay their Muslim superiors.  For this reason, they never have a desire to get off welfare — something especially true given that welfare benefits are so generous, and fraud so endemic, that some of the more adept users are bringing in six figure incomes.

Hat tip: RD, UP Pompeii

Envisioning a new world

It was always the Left that had a lock on envisioning a new world order, while the Right stood there, desperately trying to maintain the status quo. That, of course, is no longer the case. The Left is mired in the 1960s, and the Right is trying to rejigger the world, for better or for worse. Jonah Goldberg, in discussing this reality, brings to my attention a Charles Murray idea for doing away with the entire welfare state, freeing up lots of capital and, most importantly, getting the government out of the business of babying people. (And we know from Germany and France that, not only does government do a lousy job at babying people, it also destroys the people's collective backbone in the process.) Anyway, here's Goldberg:

So where are the real radicals today? Who are the folks who want to rethink the status quo and truly liberate the masses? Pretty much where they've always been: on the libertarian right. Witness Charles Murray's exciting new book, "In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State." It's an elegant little tract that makes a sustained, sober and fact-driven case for scrapping the whole calcified edifice of the welfare state.

Under Murray's plan, all transfer payments would vanish, from Social Security and Medicare to corporate welfare and agricultural subsidies. In exchange, every low-income American over the age of 21 and not in jail would get $10,000 a year from the government. And everybody else would still get at least $5,000 a year from Uncle Sam. The only hitch is that people would be required to take out a minimal health insurance policy, and the tax code would stop favoring companies that offer health insurance.

In a flash, the working poor would be richer. Work even for a half a year at minimum wage, and the extra $10k would put you above the poverty line. The whole bloated, nannying welfare state would be a memory. Market forces would finally be introduced to the health insurance industry, driving down the absurdly high price of healthcare. Women who choose not to work so they can raise their kids would get the full $10,000 no matter how much their husbands earned, supporting families more than the current system and with less paperwork. Charities and local communities would be revitalized, enjoying a flexibility denied to traditional bureaucrats. Those who wanted to walk on the wild side would get pocket change to do so but would have to live with the consequences. The old problem of subsidizing out-of-wedlock birth would become an anachronism.

Obviously, removing all government safeguards, particularly for the severely disabled, is hardly going to satisfy everyone. But at least Murray is thinking big, while liberals scoff at the idea that the welfare state isn't permanent. And that's the point. The liberal imagination is weighed down by the leaden status quo.

For all that they scoff at the rich and money generally, the Left's solution to every problem is to throw money at it. Bad schools? Throw money at them. Crumbling health care system? Throw money at it. Intractable homeless problems? Yup, more money. The collapse of black families? More welfare. And the Lefties are utterly undeterred by the fact that, after almost 40 years of this, with more and more money pumped into these systems, the systems are getting worse, not better. If the social welfare system were a house, it would be a tear-down.

Talking to Technorati: ,