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Helping the Poor and Everybody Else

Posted in Deficits, and Government

The post below was published in 2010. The examples are a bit out of date, and the links don’t work, and I was wrong about that boardwalk being a venue for my 50th HS reunion, but the principles are the same as our government continues spending about $800B per year of borrowed money.


The reason we cannot take care of the poor in America is that our patronizing leaders in Washington think they have to take care of everybody in order to garner enough votes to stay in office. There would be plenty of money available at much lower tax rates to provide a minimal safety net for every single American while encouraging and enabling a much freer and more dynamic and more competitive economy if our government did not insist in trying to make us all dependent on it.


Several days ago I saw a note about Kingsport, TN, a prosperous little industrial town, headquarters of a Fortune 500 company, getting federal “stimulus” money to resurface its main street. That is absurd! If the people in Kingsport want their street paved, let them collect some taxes or sell some bonds and pave it. Save that federal abundance for somebody who really needs it. Maybe some little town in East Tennessee still has dirt streets! Or maybe somebody up there needs an operation and can’t afford it! How are these choices being made?


I complained several months ago about a federal grant to build a boardwalk and nature center in a swampy pasture in my home town of Maryville, TN. (See Pistol Creek Days.) Now I find out that will be one of the venues of my 50th high school reunion in a couple of months. I’ll be embarrassed to use it. If the people in Maryville wanted that, and I doubt that very many of them did, or would have if they had had to pay for it, they should have collected some taxes or donations and built it without asking everybody else in the country to cough up funds for it.


There was a bit of good news in this morning’s State newspaper in Columbia, SC. Saluda Shoals Park in Lexington County, SC, just added a boardwalk and nature center in a swampy area under some power lines, and it was paid for apparently with no federal grants. Here is how the paper described the funding:

While some of the funding came from the agency’s general budget, the multi-pronged financing included a $100,000 grant from Waste Management Inc. for the project planning, a $78,000 state parks and recreation grant and $250,000 in revenue bonds to be covered by shelter rental fees.

That is good. Let those who want to use the facility pay part of the cost. But, I wouldn’t be surprised of some of that state parks and recreation money came from Washington. 


Saluda Shoals is in Congressman Joe Wilson’s district, and he has come out against earmarking and other federal funding. I live across the river in Congressman Jim Clyburn’s district. I bet we could have gotten that thing “free” if it had been in Congressman Clyburn’s district.


Now the big items. When Social Security and Medicare were enacted, the high sounding goals included keeping our senior citizens out of poverty and protecting their dignity. So, why was it given to everybody so that now our young folks are facing economy stifling tax increases to enable the government to take a cut and then send monthly checks to millions who have adequate resources on their own and can use the Social Security money to support the ever expanding cruise industry? But we are all told that Social Security is a guaranteed entitlement and that touching it means certain unemployment for politicians. Well, that could be a good thing and a worthwhile sacrifice.


And now some form of universal health care has been piled on as the third big mistake. It would be a little different, at least in practice if not in principle, if we were paying all these bills as we go, but we are just borrowing money to finance the largesse of Congress. That cannot continue indefinitely and is certain to get worse as the population ages, life expectancy increases, and the percent of people in productive non-governmental jobs decreases. The only real winners will be the elite ruling class headquartered in Washington, DC. 


The bottom line is that the word, “entitlement,” should never have been applied to anything more than “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and that charity should have been established as the provider for those in need.


A little related reflection on the past: When I went to work in 1965 for Eastman Chemical Company, an extremely conservative and paternalistic corporation in those days, the new employee orientation included a lecture on preparation for retirement. We were told that retirement was a three legged stool. One third would depend on Social Security benefits that would accrue from Social Security taxes we would pay. One third would depend on our defined benefit company pension. And one third would depend on our personal savings and investments which were aided by the company savings and investment plan, a “401K” before there were any 401K’s. The three in combination were supposed to enable us to continue whatever lifestyle we had at the time of retirement without disruption. It was good advice and a good plan. I think the underlying message the management of the company was trying to get across to the new employees, all of whom were expected to spend their entire careers there, was: Don’t depend on Social Security for your retirement. It is your responsibility to stay employed and to save and invest your earnings!