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Government’s Magnet

March 7, 2009
Many of us are seeking jobs or feel precariously balanced in our current positions. I have dear friends who have been laid off despite their hard work, and are currently living off unemployment as they urgently seek a way out. I’m guessing they would be just as frustrated as I was after having this conversation:

Paraphrase:

Employed friend: “Maybe I should just go on unemployment, then I could at least save money…”

Me: “What do you mean ‘saving money’ by going on unemployment?”

Employed Friend: “Well, if I didn’t have a job, I wouldn’t have to pay to get my nails done…and since there aren’t any jobs available, it wouldn’t matter how they looked, because I wouldn’t have any job interviews to go to.”

Me: “AAAAAAHHHH!” (internal dialogue)

I didn’t say anything to her, but now I wish I did. I’m sure she was exaggerating a bit, but her attitude revealed elements of truth about the current state of our culture.

The problem with government entitlements is not so much its “safety net” function (i.e. helping people in legitimate crisis). Far too often the safety net acts more like an electromagnet of co-dependency. The mechanism does more than catch people who are falling, it makes jumping a viable option.

(Note: I am not referring to, or criticizing everyone who goes on unemployment, just those who think that intentionally becoming completely dependent on government is a legitimate lifestyle. I think there’s a clear and important distinction there. And in the interest of full-disclosure, I too have receive government aid: subsidized student loans, education grant, and attended a state college.)

I cannot entirely blame my friend for her conclusion. As human beings we quickly learn the value of efficiency: get the most bang for the buck, the greatest output from the least amount of input. This is not necessarily a bad thing; it’s a driving force that leads us to technological advancement and discovery.

Applying this logic to our work lives, we can see that it is inefficient to work 40 hours a week when we can still make ends meet by not working at all. The problem in this equation is that government supplies a false efficiency. Actually it is worse than that: government is not capable of supplying anything of its own, it merely shifts the load from one person to another.

The tragedy of this scenario is two-sided. Not only does it increase the burden on the producer, it degrades the self-determination of the receiver. What troubled me most about my friend’s comments is that this smart, talented, highly capable woman seemed perfectly comfortable with becoming dependent on the government. What wealth of human potential we would be missing!

Enabling has been described as harming someone by helping them. There are two victims of government’s benevolent act: the giver and the taker. In my opinion, the person who voluntarily sacrifices independence for a hand-out suffers the worst harm.

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