Culture of Dependence

Bill Neinast

A friend and colleague from Army active duty days and I continue our political discussions via the internet.  Bob is way out there in the left field of Florida.  So there is little agreement between us.

The current topic is about poverty in Texas, which was discussed in this space last week.  The running debate now is about the causes of that poverty.

We agree on one aspect of this issue.  We both believe that government is responsible for so many living under the poverty level.  We disagree vehemently, however, on how the government is responsible.

Bob believes the poverty problem could be ameliorated if government got bigger and better at spreading producers’ wealth around.  I believe that government is a primary cause of the poverty problem.

In the last 50 years, governments at all levels have become growing “things.”  All growing things need continual sustenance.  So it is with government politicians and bureaucrats.  They need sustenance, i.e., more programs and more taxes to feed those programs.

This need for growth has resulted in a dependent society.  There has to be a continuously expanding population expecting support from the government.  So let’s create a housing program for the “poor” and not expect single parents to leave their children at home or with a care taker to go to work.

I remember in this regard my Aunt Waga Hueske.  Her husband died in the early days of the Great Depression and just two months before their third child was born.  She needed help and did get it from the government.  That help, however, came in a much different form than it does today.

She had to nurse her newborn son early in morning then leave him and his two sisters with a neighbor while she walked two miles to the WPA sewing room.  I do not recall what she and the other needy women sewed, but they were at the sewing machines for eight hours a day.

At noon, the neighbor carried her son to the sewing room for his noon meal. My aunt then trudged the two miles back home at 5:00 p.m. to resume caring for her three children.

That aunt could not read or write.  After WWII eliminated the need for programs like the WPA, she began working as a housekeeper or cook for other families.  When she died about  40 years ago, she was living in the home that she had purchased.

Compare that with the government programs of today.  Have a child but no husband, just go to the post office and pick up a government check.  Have another child without a husband, just pick up a larger check.  We are such a compassionate society that we cannot expect a mother to leave her children with a baby sitter if she does not want to.

Bob would argue that a situation like this is due, in part, to a lack of education. That is reflected in proposals pending in the Texas legislature. At least one of the bills is based on the belief that a poor education or lack of education is the cause of poverty.

I remember in that regard the Vietnamese refugees who moved here several years ago.  They opened a restaurant in an old theater building.  The parents stayed in the kitchen, the oldest son was the head waiter, and the two younger children bussed the tables and cleaned the floor.  If there were no tables to clean,  the children sat in a booth and did homework.  Big brother helped with the studies when needed.

Can anyone believe that anyone in that family will ever expect or seek government aid?

At the same time, a war was occurring on the Texas coast.  The factions were American shrimpers and Vietnamese refugees.

Some Vietnamese refugees moved in, bought junk boats, fixed them up, and began hard competition with the locals.  They stayed on the water longer, processed their own catches, and sold their produce directly to the public without the need of middle men.  The locals thought these hard working family businesses were unfair competition with their old ways of operating.

Then there was my Dad.  He went bankrupt and lost his business, but recovered and started over.  He left an estate subject to the estate tax.  All this with only a grade school education.

These examples are strong arguments against the belief that if the government just spent more money on education, poverty would be ameliorated.  They are, instead, examples that a work ethic, not education, is the path to self sufficiency.

So here’s the perspective. 

Bob is going to disagree vehemently with this argument.  As all liberals, he will argue that if someone does not want to work, the government should assure that he or she is supported with other worker’s money.

Various government programs have created a culture of dependency.  Why bother to work if Big Daddy Government will take care of you. 

This is not an argument that education is unimportant.  It is an argument that an instilled work ethic can overcome any education deficiency.


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