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I came across an article recently that described the welfare system as such:

"All welfare systems are a difficult balance between ensuring incentives to work and preventing the defenseless falling into abject penury."

Is this a correct description for such an altruistic system?

asked Nov 12 '10 at 09:54

Michael's gravatar image


edited Nov 13 '10 at 02:59

jasoncrawford's gravatar image

jasoncrawford ♦

"incenting" is not a word, please make a change.

(Nov 19 '10 at 22:08) Mindy Newton ♦ Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Greg, thanks for the web link on "incenting." I was surprised to hear that it really is a valid word. My own dictionaries (rather old) don't list "incent" as a verb, but there is another on-line dictionary that does:


What I found most interesting in this link is the information on the origin of "incent" as a verb:

back-formation from incentive

First Known Use: 1981

1981 is almost "yesterday" to me, at my age, but I guess 29 years is long enough for the English language to evolve a little, quite legitimately.

(Nov 21 '10 at 00:43) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

How is this different from "motivate?" What sanctions this MBA-jargon to enter the language?

(Nov 21 '10 at 19:23) Mindy Newton ♦ Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image
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No, it is the usual conceptual mish-mash that tries to appeal to legitimate moral sensbilities and sympathies.

It would be difficult to give any account of how welfare brings into play incentives to work, much less ensuring they are adequate and effective. Welfare, by its nature is a giant disincentive to work, simply because it makes work make no difference. If you get a paycheck whether you show up for work or not, which will you do?

At a more subtle level, the philosophical implications are a disincentive to work for all people, in that they make the claim that everyone is owed a livlihood, regardless of their actions. Less subtly, the same work-ethical people are punished for joining the work-force by having to pay for welfare.

As to saving the defenseless, the case is even more pernicious and corrupt. To speak in terms of "defenseless" is to bring to mind aggression against the helpless. But we are not talking about crimes against the poor. "Defenseless" has to mean disabled from working if a welfare check is to do any good in the case. But is that the population receiving welfare? No.

People who are genuinely and fully disabled are a very small population. The huge ranks of welfare recipients are people who elect not to work. As far as being saved from penury, handouts can never do that. Nothing but productive work can elevate a man above the animality of sneaking and stealing, or living off the scraps of the productive.

But it is not saving poor souls from penury that welfare-statists aim at, anyway. They aim at holding the reins after they've shackled the productive with their moral perversions. And since they were never after saving anybody in the first place, the historically obvious fact that their programme will not succeed at doing that is of no concern to them whatsoever.

The "difficult balance" the article speaks of is actually the balance welfare-statists are constantly trying to affect, within the minds of the populace, between their natural, wholesome selfishness, which rejects the altruistic role welfare assigns them, and the guilt- and confusion-induced pangs in their consciences, due to religious and progressive doctrines.

A mind armed with a philosophical defense of rational self-interest and the virtues of capitalism would be immune to those pangs, to those influences, to the allure of an unearned income, and to all the false claims of welfare-statists, socialists, and communists everywhere.

answered Nov 12 '10 at 14:46

Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Mindy Newton ♦

edited Nov 12 '10 at 20:11

In the comments, Mindy Newton raises a very interesting question which, as it turns out, does bear on the original question about "incenting" work or penury:

How is this ["incent" as a verb] different from "motivate?" What sanctions this MBA-jargon to enter the language?

(MBA here appears to mean Masters Degree in Business Administration.) My understanding is that lexicographers generally treat new words as valid in the language if they are used routinely by a broad enough segment of the population and have a clear meaning to those who use them. On the other hand, we know that Objectivism sometimes takes strong exception to some words and dictionary definitions of them on philosophical grounds -- such as the blatantly Marxist definition of "capitalism" found in some dictionaries (including one of my own dictionaries, dating back to 1958).

The philosophical identification of some dictionary definitions as "follies" reminds me of a statement by Ellsworth Toohey to Peter Keating in The Fountainhead, reprinted in For the New Intellectual, "The Soul of a Collectivist," p. 73:

...there's always a purpose in nonsense. Don't bother to examine a folly -- ask yourself only what it accomplishes.

Toohey's statement, confessing his soul as a collectivist, goes on to explain how appeals to self-sacrifice have captivated the minds of so many for so long -- and who stands to gain from it.

Ayn Rand referred back to that quote, "Don't bother to examine....", many times. She mentioned it in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (CUI), Chapter 17, "'Extremism,' or The Art of Smearing" (p. 178 in my paperback edition); and in The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (aka ROP), in the articles on "The Comprachicos" (ROP p. 82) and "Apollo and Dionysus" (ROP p. 108).

There is a subtle difference between "incenting" someone and "motivating" him. Observe what "incenting" omits: the whole psychological dimension, the fact that a person is conscious. To "motivate" generally means to induce a person to want or choose something consciously, perhaps with some conscious deliberation about it. "Incent" does away with all that, as if people are mere stimulus-response machines, responding more or less automatically to whatever "incentives" somehow appear within their perception, whether the incentives are natural or man-made. What "incent" smuggles into the discussion (by adept omission) is the perfect dream and setup of all statists: just "manipulate" people's "incentives," and you'll control them to perform whatever you wish.

So I find that I agree with the implication of Mindy's question: "incent" surely is "modern lingo" that obliterates essential characteristics of the nature of man.

The CUI reference (Chap. 17), in particular, discusses "package-deals," "anti-concepts," and definition by non-essentials in some detail, along with the Toohey quote.

answered Nov 23 '10 at 16:14

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

It has often been noted by many observers that English offers a rich variety of words that are very similar, but just different enough to allow great range and depth in expressing fine shades and subtleties in explicit and implicit meaning. If I look up "motivate" and "motive" in different dictionaries, I find a high degree of similarity to "incent" (in dictionaries that list "incent" at all) and "incentive," but also some slight but potentially pregnantly significant differences.

One example:

motive: something (as a need or desire) that causes a person to act

Related example:

motivate : to provide with a motive

From Webster's New World Dictionary, pocket-size edition, 1958-1959:

motivate: to provide with, or affect as, a motive.
motive: an inner drive, impulse, etc., that causes one to act; incentive.
incentive: a stimulus; encouragement; motive.

Thus, I still see "motive" as slightly more psychological than "incentive," although both terms are nearly synonymous. If there has been an evolution in popular usage of these terms, I see it as an evolution away from awareness and appreciation of the psychological (motivational) dimension of human consciousness.

(Nov 24 '10 at 02:08) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

One would "motivate" people, but the useage seems to be "incent" work. It is unclear whether this is meant to do something to people, or to the work, making it more desirable...anyway, it doesn't seem to help things.

(Nov 28 '10 at 02:14) Mindy Newton ♦ Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

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Asked: Nov 12 '10 at 09:54

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Last updated: Nov 28 '10 at 02:14