The Best Welfare Reform? Abolish It Altogether!
Have you noticed lately how many sincere Christians entertain the notion that the state can build a utopian society that rescues man from his fallen condition? The modern notion of “welfare” is a classic example.
This year Congress will vote on whether to continue the historic welfare reform legislation adopted in 1996. Rejecting the traditional notion of individual and community responsibility for oneself and one’s neighbor, the Bush administration is now promoting a $17 billion cash assistance package for the states. According to the Cato Institute, while the president claims this package will “hold the line” on spending, it actually is a $500 million increase from the current congressional appropriation of $16.5 billion and nearly $4 billion more than actual spending by the states. The report also states that “the president wants to promote marriage among single welfare mothers … [and] will press for $300 million in spending on programs to resolve marital conflicts, improve marital communications, reduce the divorce rate, and address problems of alcoholism, infidelity, and gambling that negatively affect families.”
The truth is that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have a workable—let alone biblical or constitutional—model for welfare reform. The Democrats want to “end welfare as we know it” by spending more money on failed government jobs, education, and health programs. The Republicans want to “end welfare as we know it” by funneling money through the hands of Washington and then back to the states so they can spend it on the same failed welfare programs. The bottom line is that not one wasteful program will be eliminated.
Both approaches are based on flawed political and economic assumptions. They assume that the federal government has legal authority to create or administer a welfare program. However, Congress has only those powers that are explicitly granted to it by the U.S. Constitution. I believe that any person who will read the Constitution with an unbiased mind will conclude that, if our Constitution is to have any meaning at all, there is absolutely no federal authority for welfare programs.
I am astounded by the Bush administration’s bald assertion regarding the capabilities of the federal government to transform human life, including marriage. The state has taken over the role of God. Government employs us, feeds us, regulates us, and now claims to be able to solve our problems, including gambling (is Bill Bennett listening?). For many Americans, the state has become their church, and the federal government has become an idol, stripping individuals and communities of their social responsibilities and engaging in the immoral transfer of wealth. And since the New Deal, a trickle has become a flood.
To no one’s surprise, Bush’s proposal provides no systematic justification for involving government in welfare. The reason is obvious. There can be no biblical justification given for the state usurping the function of private individuals and the church! I agree with Congressman Ron Paul that “the federal welfare state is neither moral nor constitutional.” The tragedy is that America has become a secular nation populated by a majority that rejects the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Christianity has allied itself with the governments of the day, while the transcendent Gospel has become submerged in the world’s values.
The Bible teaches that the church is to fulfill Paul’s injunction to “do good to all men” by helping non-Christians in need—feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, healing the sick. No believer is exempt from this responsibility (see Luke 3:11; 1 John 3:17; James 1:27). On the other hand, no Scripture supports an active government role in alleviating poverty or the use of coercive measures. Even Paul refused to command believers to help their less fortunate brothers, stating: “Each man should give what he has determined in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
I realize that it is impolitic today to criticize the sacred cow of the “Great Society” and the “Welfare State.” Merely to question the legitimacy of welfare is to commit blasphemy against the state. Nevertheless, I believe it is time for Christians to reject the gods of statism and socialism, including the misnamed “welfare” system. Government welfare is nothing more than poverty insurance. The welfare system has created endless incentives for teenage pregnancy and family breakups. And the state’s remedy has become worse than the ailment.
Lew Rockwell is right: It is not enough to reform the welfare system; it must be abolished. The answer to poverty is still to be found in individual benevolence exercised either privately or through the church, with the family as the first rung of relief. Meanwhile, Christians must continue to develop a systematic and intellectually rigorous definition of proper government action based on sound biblical principles and political theory, rather than on sentimentality or a vague sense of “justice.”
May 24, 2003
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.