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I noticed that whenever the subject of welfare reform is brought up in a discussion among other friends, anybody who attempts to talk about reforming or even abolishing the system altogether is labelled mean. Or it is said that it is cruel or brutal to cut so-and-so benefits: e.g., it is brutal to throw everyone off the employment support allowance after a year, or it is criminal/cruel to take the educational maintenance allowance away from the poorest teenagers doing apprenticeships, etc.

I notice a lot of feelings involved: cruel, criminal, brutal, etc.

What is the proper moral response to these remarks?

asked Nov 12 '10 at 10:00

Michael's gravatar image


edited Nov 13 '10 at 03:04

jasoncrawford's gravatar image

jasoncrawford ♦

One way to answer such people is to require them to set (or try to set) a limit on who is a worthy recipient of what, and at what cost to those who are forced to pay for it. This is a wholly unworkable delineation to have to make, but one implied in their welfare-approving sentiments.

Rand uses this approach, implicitly, in her account of the 20th-Century socialism experiment, where it becomes one or a few people who make such decisions for all others, about everything in their lives. That this turns the productive individuals into beggars, and the layabouts into privileged VIPs who may demand what they wish others to be made to pay for ought to be an eye-opener for the better individuals within hearing.

It might help to focus attention on how people come to be in need in the first place. It is a narrow point, but you are not, by leaving others to their own devices, putting them in harm's way. Of course, beneath that assumption lie others--that man is not fit to live his life on earth, that only the group can survive, that a single life means nothing when the group is concerned, etc.

That you oppose government action to perform charitable acts doesn't mean you are opposed, on principle, to charity. The political issues involved with a welfare state are what's monstrous, as they turn everybody into a beggar.

Unfortunately, in the situation you describe, a discussion of principles, and the reasons why rights must be protected as principles is highly unlikely to be anything but reflected and deflected off the prejudices of your friends; real answers are not likely to be absorbed, in that setting, by anything but the walls.

answered Nov 12 '10 at 15:55

Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Mindy Newton ♦

edited Nov 12 '10 at 16:08

You need to take a calm but confident stand for individualism, for the idea that one's own happiness is the moral purpose of one's life. And, as an implication, for the absolute moral right of property: to keep what one has earned.

Some phrases or ideas that can help:

  • "I do not believe that we are our brother's keepers."
  • "One person's need is not a moral claim on someone else's money."
  • "I believe in the principle of individual rights, not the welfare state."
  • "I believe in the separation of charity and state." (This helps make clear that you're not against charity, just against government charity. I got this idea from Diana Hsieh's blog.)

answered Nov 13 '10 at 03:09

jasoncrawford's gravatar image

jasoncrawford ♦


You could try looking out the window, as John Galt does in the scene where he says (quoting from memory), "I was thinking of Hank Rearden."

answered Nov 12 '10 at 15:26

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

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Asked: Nov 12 '10 at 10:00

Seen: 1,150 times

Last updated: Nov 13 '10 at 03:09