As the young twenty-one year old son of a businesswoman in a southern state, it’s hard to identify with what it’s like to be poor. However, living in a state where a small majority of people are poor, I tend to wonder what can be done about the state of poverty in Alabama and across the nation.
America is a country founded on the principles of individual liberty and responsibility, not on dependence and handouts. The current system of welfare fosters dependence and lacks the necessary incentive to spur individuals to help themselves. Poverty is something that only individuals can fix; not the government. If individuals can’t help themselves with government handouts, then the private sector should be incentivized to take the reigns. Whether this can succeed is yet to be determined.
So the biggest questions facing Americans are: Can libertarianism solve the welfare crisis? How much support is there for major welfare reform? And what can be done to eliminate poverty?
If these questions can be answered and action can be taken within practical boundaries, America is set for a brighter future.
Let’s start with the foundations of libertarianism. Libertarians advocate for incentivizing the individual to help themselves without relying on government aid. The current system advocated by liberal Democrats is not accomplishing this.
According to the US Census Bureau, 33.5 percent of unemployed were on some form of welfare or government assistance in 2015. 49.4 percent of Americans were on housing assistance for 36-48 months at a time. 62.9 percent of people were on more than one program (SNAP, SSI, housing assistance, etc.).
Under the current welfare policy, no incentive is given to keep a, job much less encourage individual responsibility. Even more shocking is the length of time Americans are unemployed. Looking at the numbers, there is an obvious correlation: The time spent on welfare is undoubtedly consistent with time unemployed. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 38.1 percent of Americans are unemployed for 15 or more weeks. 22.7 percent of Americans are unemployed for 27 weeks or more. Those unemployed longer are more likely to be on welfare longer due to the current system’s structure. This is a shocking revelation that has yet to be realized by the establishment and special interest groups.
On the policy aspect, libertarians offer unique policy solutions to this problem. Libertarians advocate for private businesses and charitable organizations to step in and take the reigns. Unlike government assistance, non-profits and charitable organizations are better suited and equipped to aid in the alleviation of poverty. They know not to throw money at the problem, expecting the problem to resolve itself or go away. Private industry also provides opportunity for unemployed individuals to grow their potential and acquire training and skills to transition to the workforce. By establishing incentives (tax breaks, for example) for private industry to continue providing these opportunities, the welfare state can begin to be phased out, saving taxpayers billions of dollars a year. These policy ideas are the groundwork for a smaller welfare state and the beginning of the end of poverty in America. All based on the simple principle of individual responsibility and limited government.
Libertarians also advocate for fiscally-responsible solutions to the growing financial burden of the welfare state. According to the Heritage Foundation, the total cost of welfare at the state and local level is $1.1 trillion. 74 percent of the cost is at the federal level. Most welfare programs are classified as means-tested programs which essentially are based on financial ability, much less the ability to work. Over 50 percent of means-tested programs are related to medical assistance (Medicaid, CHIP etc.). While the cost of care is rapidly growing and does limit access to quality healthcare to low income individuals, it is becoming majorly unsustainable costing billions of taxpayer dollars. Also, welfare fails miserably at taking into account the social and psychological factors such as dependence on substances and alcohol, inconsistent and temporary relationships, and purely self-defeating and limiting mentalities and behaviors. Instead of throwing money at a failing system, libertarians advocate for deregulating healthcare, reducing billions of dollars in costs, cutting taxes, and letting the free market lower prices to affordable levels where the individual can have access to high-quality healthcare at a fair price without excessive or even limited aid from the government. This is a fundamental principle that libertarians advocate, second to individual freedom and responsibility.
The welfare state has become overreaching and unsustainable. Since the days of FDR’s massive government growth, welfare has grown out of control and unnoticed. The current system has failed the people it swore to serve. Conservatives and liberals have yet to come up with a reasonable and common sense solution that will curb spending and foster individual responsibility. Libertarians are the only practical ideologues that can offer unique and practical solutions.
As advocates of free markets and limited government, libertarians are the gatekeepers for a better America. An America with a productive workforce and a strong passion for upward mobility and individual liberty. In the words of one of the greatest American minds Thomas Jefferson, “We hold these truths to be self evident… And are endowed by Our Creator certain Unalienable Rights of these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”. To pursue happiness, individual motivation and passion is the key. America can reach for the stars but how willing and able are we to realize this and take action to help individuals help themselves?
* Satchel Park is a college student and a passionate libertarian. He’s a member of Young Americans for Liberty and is pursuing a Bachelor of Political Science at the University of Montevallo.
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