Workfare (EP. 48)



Should people who accept welfare be required to work? Seems like a fair question. (Note that I did not add qualifiers like “able-bodied” or “working age.”) What is your answer?

Links and References

Statue of Responsibility (Blog only)

Money and Dignity


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Should people who accept welfare be required to work? Seems like a fair question. (Note that I did not add qualifiers like “able-bodied” or “working age.”)

You have heard observations like, “That is a First World problem.” generally after someone says something along these lines, “Not only was it raining as I drove to work, but the line at Starbucks was almost out the door. And they had run out of my favorite breakfast snack.” That is indeed a First World problem.

Asking the question, even leaving out references to age, physical condition and welfare status, “Should people work?” is a 21st Century question. This is a very new question. How did we get here?

For thousands of years, life for most people on the planet was short, lacking in even the basic freedoms, and generally spent being subservient–not just working for–subservient to–those in the classes above them. The unspoken assumption was not just that people should work, but they had to work, or they were beaten until they did. In the early years of immigration to the US from Europe, many came over as indentured servants, forced to work for poverty wages until they had repaid their passage across the Atlantic. There were no labor laws to speak of, including a lack of child labor laws, and unscrupulous employers took advantage. Work correctly, was the assumed default, but this correct assumption was badly–often cruelly–implemented.

Our social thinking has advanced, as it needed to; we now have protective labor laws, full employment, a rising middle class and a steady decline of those in poverty, and so much more. Invoking a popular phrase, we have cleaned the baby, but have we thrown the baby out with the bath water? What happened to the assumption that everyone should work? Kids can do chores, babysit, mow lawns and shovel snow; adults with children can work part-time from home; handicapped adults can do limited–but valuable to themselves and others–work. Of course there will be some exceptions, so please don’t take the time to list them. The point here is that the default condition–the assumption–should be that everyone works. Work makes a contribution to the society as a whole; perhaps more importantly, it is invaluable as a confidence and dignity booster for the worker–for the person doing the work.

Borrowing a key concept from the law, we must start with the assumption that everyone should work, unless proven beyond a reasonable doubt that they can’t. Dangerously, we are moving toward reversing that assumption; folks don’t need to work unless proven beyond a reasonable doubt that they can. We need to see that we are shifting the burden of proof in the wrong direction. Programs that started out as social safety nets are rapidly becoming cradle-to-grave welfare programs. As these programs continue to expand, they rob recipients of motivation, and, more insidiously, lure the recipients–and future generations–into the false belief that all of this is okay. No need to change. Welfare then goes from being a needed and temporary medicine to being a debilitating and addictive drug. And as with all drugs, it always takes more and more to keep the user content. Please do check out “Bread and Circuses…” (Blog only) Are we replicating one of the worst parts of ancient Rome?

Q. So, Will, why did you start out this podcast with a question about whether those on welfare should be required to work, then just wandered off into a broader discussion? A. Because it would be completely unfair to focus this question on that population alone. The default assumption, on welfare or not, able-bodied or otherwise, young or old, must be that we should all work unless proven beyond a reasonable doubt that we cannot. Of course, yes, of course, some of the workers will be doing simple, easy and part-time work, others will be laboring mightily. The point here is that we all need to be taught about and convinced of the internal and external value of work. Convinced. Yes, keep the valuable labor laws; keep the when-absolutely-needed social safety nets. But return to and build on the work ethic that was key to the growth and success of our nation, and is just as vital to individual and family growth today. And refuse to accept alternative lines of thinking, AKA excuses. It is amazing what we can accomplish when we refuse to even consider tempting but unproductive alternatives. Remember, we are not promised happiness, we are promised the “…pursuit of happiness.” The legal level playing field is in place. Now we need the work ethic.

By the way, work absolutely need not be “I hate this crap” drudgery. Picasso was a painter, as is the guy who paints garages for a living. Hemingway was a writer, as is the woman who edits boring newspaper copy to pay the rent. One more? Bill Gates started out as a programmer, as is some anonymous new hire laboring into the bowels of Twitter. There is the work we do, and, separately, the attitude we have about that work. If we have a productive attitude about any work, it will not only seem easier and more enjoyable, but the odds that we will soon get more satisfying work increase substantially. Check out this link to Brother Lawrence. “…Brother Lawrence understood the holiness available within the common business of life.”

Now, let’s apply the two Revolution 2.0 main tenets to today’s podcast. The two main tenets that we believe at Revolution 2.0 are:

  1. Personal Responsibility; practice it, teach it and
  2. Be Your Brother’s Keeper.

This application is easy; you can practically say it along with me:

  1. Have a strong and happy work ethic; practice it, teach it and
  2. Be your Brother’s Keeper by encouraging others to so the same. And keep encouraging.

Now it is time for our usual parting thought. For us at Revolution 2.0, it is not only change your thinking, change your life. It is change your thinking, change your actions, change the world. And if you can do it in love and enjoy the people around you at the same time, all the better. And if we, you and I, don’t do something, then the others who are doing something, will continue to run the show.

Remember: Knowledge by itself is the booby prize.

Will Luden, writing to you from my home office at 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.

Will Luden
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2 Responses

  1. Charles Cabral Reply

    Love your reference to Brother Lawrence, one of the most perceptive Christian thinkers. At the head of my daily prayer list is gratitude for the privilege to do God’s work. One question in my mind is whether our society can move toward your approach without first putting God back at the top of the list.

    • Will Luden Reply

      Charlie, my podcast on Moral Compass makers the point that we all need an outside-directed moral companies, with something other than our own thinking pointing to True North. Mine is God.

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