Michael Tanner

The attempt to pursue social justice by political means is not a new idea. It is the centerpiece of political philosophy for over two centuries.  Even the classical liberals who acknowledged the equal importance of economic liberty along with our other liberties, addressed the importance of helping the less fortunate in our system.   But the idea of seeking social justice through a forced redistribution of produced wealth was rejected by many. Hayek felt such effort inevitably led to tyranny.

The problem with using government power to help any specific group escalates from the good intentions pursued when this becomes a tool for political power. As the bureaucracy forms to serve the inevitable growing group of needy individuals, success becomes measured not by how many individuals can remain independent, but by how many unfortunate are served.  This progression leads to more benefits offered for longer period of time. Rather than a helping hand, these benefits become a lifestyle. Benefits are expanded from the unable to the unwilling. As Paul Ryan so eloquently stated, “We risk turning the safety net into a hammock.”

The longer this grows the harder it is to turn around.  Besides the fiscal deficit incurred to pay for this ever growing scheme we inflict a moral deficit as more individuals rationalize why they deserve to be paid for not working.

Michael Tanner writes Christie The Prophet in The National Review, 4/18/12.


In 1965, transfer payments from the federal government made up less than 10 percent of wages and salaries. As recently as 2000, that percentage was just 21 percent. Today, transfer payments are more than a third of salary and wages. Worse, if one includes salaries from government employment, more than half of Americans receive a substantial portion of their income from the government.

At the federal and state levels combined, we spend nearly $1 trillion per year on anti-poverty or means-tested programs that do more to promote a permanent underclass than to eliminate poverty.

This is the road we are now on. The welfare state started with small programs targeted toward a small number of genuinely needy people. But as politicians figured out the electoral benefits of expanding programs and people realized they could let others work on their behalf, those programs grew until the point at which, today, every problem in society prompts calls for government action, response, or funding.

This is the real danger of the welfare state. It’s not that it will bankrupt us — though it will. It is that it slowly and insidiously destroys our national character, saps our will to be great, and makes us content with the way things are rather than how they could be. We have seen where this road ends. As Governor Christie warns, it “will not just bankrupt us financially, it will bankrupt us morally.”

HKO further comments

In order to preserve the safety net for those who truly need it we must cease supporting many others who have other means.  There would also be a much smaller need for a safety net if we stopped passing laws that damage hiring and economic growth.

We inflict policies that make employment harder and then demand generous benefits for the unemployed.  We pay people not to work, and then create disincentives to hire.  Considering this, I am amazed that the unemployment is not triple its current level.  I consider that a testament to the fact that our work ethic still survives.