Politics: The Welfare Milestone

Published by: on Monday August 20th, 2012

It was reported recently that America has reached a milestone of sorts, with over 100 million people now receiving some form of welfare from the federal government. This is not even counting Social Security or Medicare, or refundable tax credits, just the other 80-odd federal welfare programs dispensing money. The first thing that springs to mind upon hearing this news is the quote about how democracies fail once the people find out they can vote themselves money; but really, how did we get here?

We know that the writers of our Constitution never envisioned this as the federal government’s role, because at our nation’s founding, and for about 150 years afterwards, the sum total of federal welfare payments was essentially zero. The powers of the federal government are specifically listed in the Constitution; they are the powers needed in a federal system for the central government to provide for the common defense, to maintain unified legal and financial systems, and to resolve inter-state disputes. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that America started on its current path of ever-increasing redistribution of wealth.

All this federal welfare spending, as well as transfer payments like Social Security, spring from an interpretation of just two phrases in the Constitution: “provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States” and “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers”. But these two phrases have created a government where today the welfare and redistribution programs dwarf the portion that handles of all the enumerated powers in the Constitution

Some on the left would ask “What’s the problem? So what if the federal government spends money on the general welfare of its citizens, our friends in Europe all agree that’s a perfectly good thing for a national government to do.”

Certainly it is important for government to assist those who aren’t able to take care of themselves, but you have to ask how wise is it to have the federal government in charge of welfare payments in the first place. Being closer to the problem, city, county and state governments can run these programs more efficiently and with closer citizen oversight. The Constitution omitted mention of welfare programs because the Founders intended to limit the federal government’s powers. The power to hand out money to “the deserving” is open ended and unlimited; unless reigned in, the only question is whether the nation achieves insolvency before we hit our next “milestone”.