The Moral(ity) Problem of Welfare

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Barton Hinkle, considers the common leftist assertion that Walmart's low wages are effectively subsidized by the government:

Imagine, too, what would happen if Walmart and fast-food restaurants went out of business tomorrow. Would other companies snap up all their employees, perhaps even pay them better? Probably not. (In fact, the increase in job applicants might depress wages elsewhere.) It is far more likely that the shutdowns would lead to higher unemployment and therefore even more social-welfare spending. Hence Walmart and other low-wage employers probably reduce the total amount of social-welfare spending in the U.S., rather than increase it.
Hinkle is right that these complaints are ridiculous, but wrong not to ask why we have welfare spending in the first place. This error ties into his larger point, which is that leftists are now making a similar moral argument about welfare sapping moral initiative that conservatives have made for some time. Leftists do so regarding the moral initiative of Walmart and conservatives do so regarding that of individuals.

This may be true, but there is a further moral problem with welfare that remains unaddressed, and which one quickly reaches by asking a simple question: Why go to Walmart -- or any other place of business -- in the first place? The answer isn't likely to be "to give alms". Welfare can and does remove an inventive to work, but that money has to come from somewhere. and that is the moral problem conservatives ought to tackle. Indeed, on reading Hinkle's piece one would be unsurprised to see leftists, aghast at Walmart's not pulling its own supposed weight, say something -- as Hinkle admits they do -- like, "and that's why Walmart has to be forced to pay its employees more". Until and unless conservatives start making the case that individuals (and, by extension, corporations), do not have a moral obligation to help others, they will come up empty against calls for government force to make individuals act in ways that some gang in charge of the government deems moral.

As Ayn Rand once said regarding charity, "[M]isfortune is not a claim to slave labor...". Conservatives, such as those who advocate "workfare" programs in response to the problem of recipient laziness that compounds the theft inherent in welfare -- and leftists, who want to make Walmart pay more -- have been in fundamental moral agreement for far longer than Hinkle seems to think. Furthermore, they will continue to be in agreement until one side or the other stops regarding charity as a primary virtue. Consequently, the welfare state will remain unchallenged. Until then, there will be no diminution in size of the welfare state (as Hinkle seems to hope for), only cosmetic changes, such as a requirement to work in order to receive stolen goods -- and who knows what "remedies" for Walmart's alleged sins our current crop of politicians might concoct.

-- CAV


Today: Reworded first sentence. 

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