The Poor

February 16, 2007

One of the many things that made me a True Believer(tm) in the state was to help the poor. I was convinced that only through the vast power of the state to take money from the rich and give it to the poor, to help them from their misery. Truly an idea straight out of Robin Hood.

But over six years working in social services in Toronto began to open my eyes. Even though I only now can admit it, I knew even then, 10 years ago that the social welfare state as we knew it was terribly flawed. Flawed because it perpetuated the dual crimes dependence and isolation.

The system forced the poor into a spiral of dependance, a trap which has held generations of families. A well meaning trap, but we all know what the road to hell is paved with. Firstly, it gave barely subsistence wages in an effort to encourage the poor to seek work. At the same time, it clawed back any extra money that a recipient might earn, discouraging work. The rules and regulations, extra dental and drug benefits further made it unattractive to get off the roles. Would a minimum wage job offer those benefits? None. Even a well paying job, well above the welfare rate, would not offer these benefits, so what incentive to leave? None. And as a result, I knew and worked with families that were literally 3 generations on the welfare roles. It was easy to get on, but very hard to get off, making thousands dependant on the whims of politicians and wanna-be-cop welfare workers.

I suppose Milton Friedman’s constant pool of unemployed had to come from somewhere.

The isolation had a far worse effect. The welfare rules stipulated that a recipient could not have another wage earning person or welfare recipient living with them. Meaning, of course, that the welfare recipient could not live together or pool their resources to reduce costs and get ahead. That made them isolated from their families and social circles and even more dependant on the government. The people I worked with often told stories of boyfriends and husbands hiding their clothes when the welfare worker came by, so as their significant other would not loose their benefits because of such criminal behaviour as sharing. Any extra money was to be clawed back, so that these people always had the same amount of money. The welfare recipient was further isolated from the rest of society. When someone of the monied classes saw the poor, they could avoid helping because “the government will take care of them.” They ceased to be fellow humans, but things that the faceless bureaucrats had to take care of.

And of course, none of this was the fault of the poor, they merely believed the state when it said it was going to help them. They, out of desperation, became trapped and dependant, victims of the state’s “help.” It is not help, but a way to ensure cheap, desperate labour, placated of any desire to rebel, for fear they lose their benefits. Occasionally, its a great income redistribution method – to redistribute income to corporate welfare queens who get workfare labour cheap, or plumb contracts to do drug testing on welfare recipients or audit the books.

Imagine now a decentralized anarchist society, with a truly free market and actual full employment and empowerment. There would be no “welfare” per se, but the small communities would take care of their own. They would know the people in their groups, and gladly lend a helping hand. That help might not be money, but some work, some barter for food or an out and out loan until the person is on their feet. And later, when someone else is in need, that person would ‘pay it forward’ and help. this is human nature and we have this now. Small towns in Canada, with close communities don’t have homeless because of these very actions.

It was this that Emma Goldman was talking about when she said anarchy was “to each according to their needs, from each according to their ability.” Not the Marxist static bastardization of it, where the needy were always the needy and the able always the able. No, when you are needy, you get what you need and when you are able you give what you are able. That’s what it really means – anarchist karma, if you will.

Of course, the irony is that if we just simply get rid of welfare as it is now, things will be worse for the poor. No welfare may need to be taken down slowly, by first weaning off the dependence on the government teat. Counter economics, with black and grey markets would certainly work, merely by ignoring the state until it goes away.

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One Response to “The Poor”

  1. James Bow Says:

    You have an invitation to join this blog to the Blogging Alliance of Non Partisan Canadians.


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