The Welfare State and the Selfish Society

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And each entitlement becomes a “right” as the left transforms entitlements into the language of “rights” as quickly as possible.

What entitlements do, and what the transformation of entitlements into rights does, is create a citizenry that increasingly lacks the most important character trait — gratitude. Of all the characteristics needed for both a happy and morally decent life, none surpasses gratitude. Grateful people are happier, and grateful people are more morally decent. That is why we teach our children to say “thank you.” But the welfare state undoes that. One does not express thanks for a right. So, instead of “thank you,” the citizen of the welfare state is taught to say, “What more can I get?”

Yet, while producing increasingly selfish people, the mantra of the left, and therefore of the universities and the media, has been for generations that capitalism and the free market, not the welfare state, produces selfish people.

They succeed in part because demonizing conservatives and their values is a left-wing art. But the truth is that capitalism and the free market produce less selfish people. Teaching people to work hard and take care of themselves (and others) produces a less, not a more, selfish citizen.

Capitalism teaches people to work harder; the welfare state teaches people to want harder. Which is better?


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  • tagalog

    Mr. Prager talks around the biggest problem, which is that when we mistake government-concocted entitlements for constitutional rights, when government discovers that it can't meet those entitlements and tries to eliminate them, there's hell to pay.

    We're discovering that now, as we try to reform Social Security and Medicaid and Medicare. It's stlll the "third rail" of politics, except somebody's got to touch it, we now know.

  • Fred Dawes

    Its ok by me if the system boys want to eliminate our social system, but i have paid into this system for 50 years can i have the 86,000 i have paid social security, my IRA Disappeared into the banking system 2 years ago, oh yes the U.S.Army owns me $196 dollars from 1969 can i get that to? oh yes can we also stop the payment to the third worlds population who have taken billions and billion and billions illlegally for 40 years The system boys want that to go on and on until we the people have nothing.

    what you see is a lie, all you hear is a lie, and our political people are monkeys.
    all of our political rats know one thing tell lies win the day.

    • cgerber

      Fred get used to it! I have even paid more personally then you did into both system SS and Medicate and guess what? Keep repeating this to yourself everyday that you still live on this Earth. " We don’t give a damm what your think your entitle too" Just keep repeating it over and over it will eventually sink in. THERE IS NO MORE MONIES. The USA is done! There is only one thing left to decide what is the day that it starts?

    • MarkRich

      I too have paid into it. I have ALSO invested in myself and my future REALIZING the house of cards this all was based upon- and I will take the ups and downs of the market over the government BS system any day of the week. What REALLY concerns me is the future of my children and grandchildren. The idea of this uncontrollable debt is worth every effort to reclaim a semblance of our capitalist system.

  • ThePittsburghSteeler

    Mr. Prager is absolutely right here; but he doesn't mention that the welfare state also takes away the chance to work harder, for far too many. A caveat to this, is the
    concurrent decay of the work ethic in far too many people. This terrible lack of work ethic
    is particularly distressing to witness in the younger generation–in school-age kids, and
    in young adults in their 20's and 30's, when they are on the job.

    John F. Kennedy said "Ask not what your country can do for you; rather, ask what
    you can do for your country." JFK is rolling in his grave.


    • cgerber

      This is even getting better by the day. I was born in a communist country; we had all the dogma, guaranteed health care, education, housing, and jobs. Our country went bankrupt. Everyone was very poor, except the 5% that worked for the Government. The USA is very close to the place that I came from and when we get there you're all going to F$%^@# hate it. The reason the country I came from failed is very simple there comes a point where there is nothing left to steal.  Don’t blame the Capitalist most of them don’t even practice Capitalism they just take advantage of the corruption of our Tax Laws and Congress. We’re done get used to it and there will be no change till massive suffering. Study Europe riots protest and natural disasters like Katrina. Watch what Government does and doesn’t do and the Cockroaches in the Cities. Multiple this events by 100s and you’ll see reality. Just in time supply chain in the Supermarkets will explode the Welfare state. Save yourself and don’t trust the Government Parasites.

    • Jim_C

      I think you're absolutely right that we lack a sense of service and mission. We've become too self-centered.

      But how, exactly, did the welfare state take away the chance to work harder?

      Our work ethic, if it has indeed suffered at all, has suffered because 1. we expect instant gratification from everything; 2. we've grown accustomed to living like kings; and 3. Our jobs themselves are more and more sedentary, specialized, information-based. One could easily argue that CAPITALISM has helped "destroy" our work ethic, if it comes to that.

      Personally, I don't think our work ethic is good, bad, indifferent compared to other times (except that previous generations had a much more urgent sense of necessity). But I do think we've failed to account for incredibly compressed, accelerated periods of social and economic changes.

      • tagalog

        Things that have taken away our chance to work harder. For "chance," read "desire:"

        1. Unions pricing the American worker in private industry out of world markets;

        2. Government false promises of cradle-to-grave care;

        3. Increasing numbers of nearly undischargeable government workers as government increases the spread of its cancerous tentacles;

        4. Government leaders beating the drum of zero-sum economics and the allegedly increasing need to limit our horizons;

        5. Prejudicial taxation of the enterprising (e.g., the "small business tax" among others);

        6. Government subsidization of the undeserving poor;

        7. The ever-increasing understanding of "fairness" as punishing those who succeed in order to take their money for the benefit of those who have failed;

        8. The unwillingness of our teachers and parents to instill the virtues of patriotism, civic understanding, and hard work in our children;

        9. The unending litany of complaints about how the United States is so unfair to certain groups of people;

        10. The ignorant bone-laziness of the baby boomer generation.

  • fmobler

    Mr. Prager is right if the choice is merely between capitalism and welfare. But he ignores (in this article at least), a fundamental problem with post-Enlightenment capitalism. Namely, it has become untethered to moral human ends. We have replaced the moral conversation that should take serious account of the vice of avarice as well as the virtue of work with a regulatory view that "if it's legal, its moral." That leaves capitalists and "welfarists" in the same non-ethical boat. After all, why should we regard work as virtuous, if we have abandoned all other talk about virtue and vice in our economic lives.

    I know very well that Mr Prager is a morally serious thinker. An essayist has to pick what to emphasize and what not to mention at all. So please don't read my comment as a criticism of the man., I simply want to point out an important complication that is missing from this particular essay.

  • Jim_C

    It's sad that fmobler, above, who has more acutely assessed one of our nation's biggest problems, should feel the need to apologize for disagreeing with Mr. Prager, who is actually a far less serious thinker than fmobler. Mr. Prager seeks always to demonize his political foes; fmobler instead seeks to address a problem in this country. The former is childish and simple-minded; the latter actually seeks to advance the conversation.

  • Richard Ahern

    Socialism is when free people are willing to forget their freedom and allow the government to give them a limited government security. Winston Churchill said,
    "Socialism is the philosophy of failure,
    the creed of ignorance,
    and the gospel of envy."

    Socialism will ultimately destroy America when America find government security more atttractive than hard earned freedoms

    Richard Ahern

  • MarkRich

    Anybody with 1/2 a brain knows that "necessity" is the mother of invention. To actually believe that social programs are going to cause a human being to be a more generous individual is either lying or is retarded. Yea RETARDED for the PC types out there. Charity is a voluntary work- from the heart. Government compulsion is what its name implies- FORCE. Just see the fruits of people who must make ends meet on their own compared to those who demand PAYMENT from others for their needs. (I speak not of the truly needy). The difference in attitude, work ethic and GRATITUDE is off the charts.