For the sake of discussion, allow me to stipulate the following and then ask a question:
There are, in our society, a certain non-negligible number of able-bodied individuals who simply do not want to work, to be self-supporting, or to take responsibility for their lives. Most of them are not particularly intelligent; some of them are barely educable. They lack self-awareness, motivation, goals, and direction, and do not seem the least bit interested in (or capable of) developing any of those qualities. They are lazy, improvident, imprudent, and frankly irresponsible; they make poor parents and pass on their inferior genes and social dysfunctions to their children. They possess a sense of entitlement (which they also pass along) and seem to believe that the world owes them a living. They are what previous generations would have described as “lazy bums,” “good-for-nothings,” “idlers,” “wastrels,” and so on. They number in the millions.
The question: what do we do about them, with them, to them, or for them?
I’m being neither facetious nor, I hope, unduly provocative. A lot of people believe (and no doubt for good reasons) that our social safety net is overburdened with undeserving individuals, and that hard-working citizens are being unfairly taxed to support them. This situation may be the unintended though predictable consequence of well-intentioned social policies—the tragedy of American compassion—or it may be the equally predictable result of cynical political stratagems designed to create a “dependent” class of individuals beholden to the government; but in either case, such people are among us, and I’m honestly asking, what should we do about it (them)?
I lean towards erring on the side of charity: we can’t be sure who among the poor are deserving and who are unworthy “takers,” so we should continue to provide benefits, doing what we can to screen and qualify recipients, adding reasonable work and education requirements when we can, setting limits on how long benefits can be collected, etc. But that describes, more or less, our present system (at least in theory), and many Americans are unhappy with it.
What are some better ideas? Tennessee State Senator Stacey Campfield has proposed reducing benefits for parents on public assistance whose children don’t do well in school—would that help? What other carrots and sticks can we use? And if our conclusion is along the lines of “Most of those people are just hopeless, they’ll take the carrots and then steal the sticks and beat each other over the head with them” the question remains: what do we do?