There are many conservatives who will criticize government welfare, yet not blink an eye at a $700 billion defense budget. Unfortunately, most of it isn’t for defense, and the actual amounts on military spending and foreign adventurism goes beyond this amount when you figure in interest on the debt and spending on veterans from previous wars.
Many conservatives and most libertarians will rightly criticize domestic government welfare programs such as food subsidies (formerly food stamps) and housing subsidies. It can be especially infuriating when you see someone pay for groceries with a government-issued card and then pay separately for beer and cigarettes. Most competent adults understand that money is fungible and that the money used to buy the alcohol and cigarettes could have been used to buy the food.
But leaving aside welfare involving the military-industrial complex, there is also domestic government welfare that is rarely criticized by conservatives. The biggest are called entitlements: Medicare and Social Security.
I know some conservatives will say that this isn’t really welfare because people paid into it. This is why we have payroll taxes deducted from our paychecks. There are several problems with this argument.
First, the money being paid out for these programs is funded through current taxation (or deficit financing). The so-called trust funds are just filled with IOUs. If it weren’t for current workers, the programs would be completely bankrupt.
Second, these are still forced programs. It is not like contributing to a 401k or pension plan that is voluntary or sponsored by an employer.
Third, we all know that the “premiums” paid in the form of payroll taxes are not proportional in what is returned. It might be closer than most other tax and spend government programs, but it is still not equitable.
Now what about domestic welfare that doesn’t include senior citizens? What is the biggest middle class welfare program?
The answer is education.
Most people don’t want to admit this. It may even be hard for a few libertarians to admit this. If you are sending your children to public (i.e. government) schools, then you are accepting welfare. And for the amount that is being spent on children (oftentimes more than $10,000 per student per year), it is a massive form of welfare. If you throw in subsidies for college, the amounts are even bigger.
While many middle class Americans will look down on the person using a government-issued food card at the grocery store, they won’t think twice about waiting in a car line to pick up their kid at school. And if anything, food is more of a need than education. You can’t live without food.
This isn’t a criticism of people accepting welfare by sending their kids to a government school. It is more a point that people are being hypocritical to a certain extent.
There have been many discussions between libertarians on whether it is appropriate to accept government welfare or subsidies. I certainly do not think it is hypocritical for libertarians to accept government subsidies, especially to the point of what they are paying towards government.
The key for libertarians is to never defend these subsidies. You can use the government schools, but you shouldn’t be voting to increase the school budget just because you currently have a kid in the system.
Of course, I am not advocating that libertarians or anyone else use the school system simply because they have to pay into it. That is a sunk cost. But if I recommend private school or homeschooling over government schools, it isn’t because it is welfare. It is because I don’t want kids indoctrinated and taught to be obedient little citizens.
The education welfare system is especially bad for many reasons. First, it does impact the upbringing and thinking of children in our society. Second, it is very disproportionate, as those without kids and those who elect not to put their kids in the public schools are still forced to pay for everyone else.
Third, and perhaps the worst, is that it isn’t thought of as welfare at all. It is a given in our society.
And while the federal government does have involvement in the education system, it is still mostly funded at the state and local level. It speaks to the popularity of government-funded education that no county (and certainly no state) in the United States has abolished government education. Unfortunately, it is required by law in most states to provide education.
The education system is a disaster. It is more of a disaster in some places than others, but it is generally bad everywhere. I am not so concerned about what kids don’t learn as what they do learn. They are taught uniformity, obedience, and dependency. And this is just in the “good” schools.
For this reason, I am actually glad to see the failing system. Many kids rightly see it as a joke, and they don’t respect the system. This is actually good in my book, as long as they aren’t getting into serious trouble.
In addition, the number of homeschoolers has increased vastly. It is very common in many areas now. This is helping to undermine the system. What does it say about the system when a family is forced to pay thousands of dollars a year in property taxes to fund the school system, and they still choose not to use it?
The hope is that more middle class Americans will want to get out of the system because of the reputation associated with it. There almost needs to be somewhat of an elitist attitude that goes with it.
If you homeschooled your kids 20 years ago, it was almost something of a stigma. You didn’t exactly go out of your way to tell everyone. But it is so common today, most homeschooling parents are proud, or at least not ashamed, of saying that they homeschool. The tides are turning, where homeschooling is seen as a positive thing.
When the majority of middle class America is striving to homeschool or find private school alternatives, then there will be an overall shift in attitudes. When government schools are seen as a welfare program for the poor, then we will know that things are in pretty good shape.