American Political Philosopher, Author, and Musician
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The Utopian Welfare/Corrections model   Dec -09   

 

   All crimes are subsets of the same ultimate crime: to hinder the rightful pursuits of the free. If you murder an individual, you clearly enough end the progress of that life toward an end that humanity will never be allowed to know. But if you steal 5 dollars from that individual instead, you have committed a subset of that murder. By a capital amount of 5 dollars, that individual has lost the fuel that feeds his progress. What else is his life but the sum of his actions toward his goals? That 5 dollars represented opportunities to take advantage of the works of others toward his vision.

            If you’ve helped him in his progress by agreeing to work toward his goal in trade for 5 dollars, then you have contributed to both his and your own pursuits, and society can potentially benefit from both of those paths.

he current welfare paradigm includes the practice of delivering free money, food, and housing to people who have met some bureaucratic litmus test for receiving those benefits. In order for those resources to exist, there has to be a law that allows the government to forcibly take that money from other individuals: the ones who have it.

 

Can this law be constitutional?

 

It depends on how you interpret the First Amendment. If you interpret it the way the stereotypical conservative interprets it, then it means only that the federal government cannot establish a national religion. Interpreted that way, we have total democracy instead of constitutional democracy. In that case, any law can be made regardless of how unreasonable it is, and the only recourse is to gain democratic advantage and change it.

 

If you interpret The First Amendment as a separation of church and state- as did Jefferson and Madison- then a law that says that government can take money from people who have it and give it to people who don’t is subject to the scrutiny of reason.

 

The first question one must ask is “why is this law required?”

 

I’m sure there’s a variety of possible answers to that question, but I believe the variety is addressable without welfare payments.

 

An example might be “There are children going hungry, would you put these families on the street?”

 

Would it be fair to ask at that point why the parents have put their children in that position? Is it fair to ask why a person would have children without first arranging for the means of support? Is it important that some of the people who have enough money to pay taxes and support their families didn’t have families when they were young and attractive, but waited until they could afford to, or maybe they didn’t get to have a family at all? Is it fair that a person who has pulled his weight in society and may want to have a family must not only trade his labor for what’s required to responsibly propagate his own DNA, but he must portion off a share of that labor to support the propagation of that of someone who doesn’t concern him or herself with any responsibility to fellow citizens?

Is it fair to ask if it’s possible for a person to work and raise children without the state’s intervention? Let’s take the example of a young mother who has a child, and the father is choosing to not participate. First, if the father is alive and identifiable, then his wages should be garnished or he should be in jail. Even if that father didn’t exist, and there were no other means of help, could the mother survive? What if, for example, that mother found another such mother and they agreed to work alternate shifts and care for one another’s children and to be roommates? Let’s say they make what current law would say is minimum wage. If they worked 40 hours per week they could bring home at least 250 dollars each. A small two-bedroom apartment can be obtained for less than a thousand, which would leave a thousand for food, utilities, and transportation. This is tight, no doubt, but most of us who make six figure salaries in our 40s lived for decades in no better conditions than what I described for the roommate-mothers. I had three roommates in a two bedroom at one point; one guy slept in the living room and another in the dining room. We worked our jobs toward whatever the aim; for me through college and on into the early parts of my wider career. I was in my 30s before I lived independently of a roommate, and now I’m the perfect example of someone who society believes should be paying taxes to send free money to other people who don’t apparently want to live the way that I lived at their age and beyond.

For the reasonably healthy, therefore, is poverty really something that exists in America? Are these people in such poverty that they can’t really bring themselves to work a shift at the local Tastee-Freeze, if nothing else? Are they disadvantaged such that they can’t find a temp agency, which typically can have you working that day at the time of your choice (in my ample experience)?

 

 

 

Those are all fair questions, in my view, and reason could not allow the redistribution of earnings from those who have sacrificed to those who won’t, because it’s neither fair, nor necessary.

 

For this type of case, reason supports the following in my opinion:

 

  1. The person who has a child that they cannot support is a person that requires the charity of others. If the charity of others is not enough to continue the support of that child, then this parent has committed a crime.

  2. This person has created a situation in which society must essentially become a parent, and this person has become a dependent, as have the children of that person.

  3. The crime is the same as any other- which is unrightfully impeding the progress of other individuals toward their pursuits of happiness. (citizens who are paying their way)

 

No, it cannot be the policy to put children on the street. But it also cannot be the policy to take from some and give to others, as if the recipients are on equal footing as citizens with those from whom the money was taken. The two aren’t on equal footing. The former have committed crimes. The society-as-parent, parent-in-need-as-dependent model makes sense. If you are a child growing up in your parent’s house, you cannot make decisions about the following:

 

  1. Where you are going to live.

  2. What and when you will eat.

  3. When you can come and go from the shelter you have been provided.

 

That is: If you are living under society’s roof in this model, you must play by the rules of society, and you must be viewed as a citizen who has committed a crime. You should be incarcerated “grounded”, and should only be allowed to leave “the house” in order to earn money toward your independence from government. Just society would not permit an individual to forgo his responsibilities to his children or his society, and simply send the bill to others. Let those who would burden society with their unearned-proliferation be burdened with the full measure of their expenditure, and watch the decision-making among the young and horny instantly become more cogent.

 

That is what is fair when it comes to the bulk of the general welfare system.

 

How does the rest of the correctional system fit into this puzzle?

 

Prisons in today’s America are known to have many issues, among them overcrowding, prisoner-on-prisoner violence, riots, rape, drugs, etc. The structure of the prison system allows for internal societies. There is enough interaction between prisoners to allow the formation of gangs, and often violent inmates are in the same populations as those whose crimes were not violent in nature.

 

This is an untenable recipe for disaster.

 

A person who has committed a crime against society has a defined burden of responsibility. It’s a cruel and unusual punishment to subject that person to an unreasonable risk of bodily harm above the loss of freedom earned by his crime. It does not benefit society that relationships are formed between people who have broken laws, further, nor when a first-time offender is hardened by the injustice of his experience within the prison system such that his successful reintegration into society has become less likely.

 

Thus my conclusion: All incarcerations for all crimes should be similar, and all inmates should have a solitary cell from which they do not leave, except at times convenient for the state. If a person is sentenced to a year in prison, that person should spend that year alone in a cell. There should be basic rights associated with life in this cell.

 

In my view, these are reasonable:

 

  1. The inmate should have access to outside air.

  2. The inmate should have access to sufficient water and plumbing for hygiene.

  3. The inmate should have a reasonably comfortable place to sleep and enough room to stand.

  4. The inmate should have a reasonable diet.

 

There would be essentially two levels of incarceration in these cells, and a variety of additional amenities depending on the status of the inmate. The first level of incarceration is in relation to those who have a defined sentence for a crime. Those prisoners go into the cell and are not released until the conclusion of their sentences. The behavior of the prisoner would dictate the access to additional amenities within his cell. The second scenario relates to people who are transitioning from the first level of incarceration into society, and for those who are unable to care for their children without society’s help. These cells would also house the homeless who choose to enter the system as a means of transitioning back to self-sufficiency. Each cell would have a network connection for job searches or other transition services, and for general administrative communications, for example. There should be an organized check-in and check-out process, so theses individuals can seek or engage in employment either outside or within the welfare/corrections system. Meals would be distributed to the cells, and medical care would be provided through the corrections system, augmented by volunteers, interns, charity, and workers transitioning out of the corrections system.

 

There are numerous advantages to this model:

 

  1. The current welfare/corrections model encourages continued dependence. This new model encourages an individual to choose the lesser of two evils: one limited freedom (getting up and going to work almost everyday, like most people) instead of another (life in a cell).

  2. The uniformity of the process would yield better efficiency than the current model. I saw a documentary about a maximum security prison during which two guards engaged in a convoluted process of transitioning a prisoner from a cell to an outdoor yard for an hour. It seemed to me that this murderer was commanding a great deal of taxpayer time and money through these constant rituals. This person should just do his time, as inexpensively as humanely possible. With respect to lesser criminals who just require financial help to survive, handling them through a corrections system that doesn’t encourage their dependence would be much less expensive than sending paychecks to people who haven’t earned them. This becomes even more efficient as the number of individuals who place themselves in this system decrease naturally, due to the effect of consequences on behavior.

  3. There is none of the ambiguity as exists in the current paradigm surrounding just who it is that needs the help of charity. Giant charitable organizations today rake in a ton of cash. They help people in many cases. In many others, that money is funneled into organizations that push political agendas under the guise of charity, or gets soaked-up in a sea of “overhead”. All this can be accomplished because no one really has a handle on who needs all of that money, nor who is getting it. To the average person, the “needy” or “poverty-stricken” are just those unfortunate people everywhere that we don’t usually see because they aren’t where we are: at work. In the no-checks-sent model, there’s nothing ambiguous about who needs help. Everyone has a direct line to those who need a helping hand. Employers could give someone a shot, benefactors could choose to help families, and charities could prove their focus is on helping those truly in need or risk losing the dollars of those who want to be assured that their contributions are going to help people, not to fund political action groups or some other special interest organizations.

 

 

I would imagine that some might think this is a callous way to approach people in need. People tend to believe that the government is there to solve the social issues of society. They might say “what about the sick or infirmed, etc.”

 

I would say that the same levels of charity would exist in this model as do currently, except they would be better funded. No one wants to see their loved-ones in trouble. Most of us would give up part of our own freedom to care for a sick relative. When that relationship isn’t possible, the generosity of a fairly-taxed population would put to shame any bureaucratic attempt at addressing the problem.

 

The government option- the corrections system- should be the last-resort option. And as last-resort options go, it isn’t a bad one. A person who is simply “down on his luck” can take steps to improve his circumstance. He could go to a job interview with clean clothes. For the rare individual that requires help from the state, there is at least a comfortable bed and a good probability of obtaining decent medical care within the corrections system. For the wayward youth who steals a car, let him feel the pain of incarceration, but not be polluted by the rotten culture of internal societies.

 

The underlying reality is that people behave based upon the set of circumstances with which they are faced. If young mothers and fathers place themselves in a situations in which they are in over their heads, then they, their parents, or charity will bear the responsibility. If none of these can meet those responsibilities, then the last-resort of society kicks in. There is a lot of cushion before the state option. People will take a certain amount of risk when they feel that someone else’s freedom (money) will be compromised as a result. You may hate telling your parents you’re in trouble or that you need money, but you may be able to live with that. If your parents are paying, then society can live with that. That’s called “family”. If the family can’t provide the necessary support, then charity is the next level of support.

Free people are generous people. One only has to look at the outpouring of money after the trade-center attacks or hurricane Katrina- even in a situation in which most of us are taxed to death already- to conclude that money and compassion are not in short supply in America. What might it be when the people are taxed only for proper governmental functions? Charities can be profitable businesses in a truly capitalist society. Competition would breed quality. Charities could pursue funding based upon the openness of their structures, and on the proven effect of their strategies. This would take care of people who are truly in need due to no fault of their own. It would also take care of most people who are in need due to their own irresponsibility. It is only the criminal, or the criminally irresponsible, who would face the corrections system in the utopian model. That system itself is compassionate, in that it enables and guides the minor-offenders to rejoin society at their nearest opportunity.

            In short, welfare and corrections should be two ends of the same spectrum. Those requiring sustenance from the state should receive it through the corrections system, not through subsidies to their current lifestyle choices. The rest of us should choose our own contribution-level to the charity layer. The layer for which we are forced to pay should be the most efficient, and should force responsibility where it belongs.




 

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The cover of the published version of my original manuscript



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