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What a Conservative Social Safety Net Would Look Like – Part 2 of 4

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The free market is the engine that produces the most general prosperity.

But the free market also cannot solve all problems.

Obama was not entirely wrong when he said of the businessman: “You didn’t build that, someone else did.”

That was clumsy phraseology. And I’m certainly no Obama apologist. I think he’s a socialist, not much of a fan of America, who is moving America very much in the wrong direction.

How can you like something you say you want to “fundamentally transform“? (Which is what Obama promised he would do to America in 2008)

But there is truth in what Obama was saying.

He was making the valid point that successful businesses cannot not be built without roads, without infrastructure, without law and order, without education, without financial markets, without a currency . . . anymore than NFL football games could be played without rules, without stadiums, without referees, without a governing body.

For the Romney campaign and the national GOP to make Obama’s “You didn’t build that”  remark the centerpiece of their their campaign strategy to defeat Obama for reelection in 2012 was pretty dumb.

Obviously a civil society is required for businesses to flourish.  That requires government. Reasonable taxation is the price we pay for civilization.

But liberals also have a big political liability because they very often sound like they oppose capitalism. Most Americans like capitalism. Most Americans oppose socialism. Most Americans understand that capitalism allowed America to quickly become the richest nation in human history.

Most Americans don’t want to mess with the “goose that’s laying all the golden eggs” – free-market capitalism.

Most Americans also believe government has gotten too big, too meddlesome. Every Gallup poll taken over the decades shows that about 40 percent of Americans describe themselves as conservatives; just 20 percent describe themselves as liberal. The rest are somewhere in the middle. So America is a center-right country.

Americans love freedom, love capitalism, love America and all America stands for — the “land of the free.”

America is a place that allows you to be anything you want to be. In America, there is no ceiling on achievement.

But most Americans also want insurance — assurance that, should something really bad happen, there is a floor through which they cannot fall.

But What Should a Conservative Social Safety Net Look Like?

Few would argue against the need to protect those who cannot work. They are either too young, too old, or disabled.

But what about the able-bodied working age who just can’t find a job, or won’t find a job?

A recent survey by the U.S. Department of Labor finds that 34.3 percent of working-age Americans say they don’t want a job.

That of course is up to them. People are free to work, or not work. That’s their choice.

But then these folks should not expect taxpayers to pay their living expenses — at least not without requiring something in return.

The premise behind a conservative safety net is: “We will help the helpless, but not enable the lazy and the clueless.”

The type of social safety net we should have is one that encourages able-bodied Americans to get off it.

Bill Clinton signed welfare reform into law that required able-bodied Americans on welfare to work.

Millions of Americans left the welfare roles for jobs as a result.

President Obama canceled that the work requirement for those on welfare. The result: a 50 percent increase in the number of people on Food Stamps, and one third of the country on some form of “means tested” welfare.

The difference between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama is that Bill Clinton saw it as an important public policy goal to wean people off welfare, while Obama’s primary goal has been to put more people on welfare, to addict as many Americans as possible to government assistance.

If I were to design America’s social “safety net” policy, it would look like this:

1) Assistance to the Unemployed Able-Bodied Adult

The unemployed would receive a maximum of nine months of unemployment insurance payments.

It’s significant that almost everyone receiving unemployment benefits manages to find work during the last month or so before their benefits run out. So many use their unemployment checks as a way to have an extended paid vacation.

So here’s the solution . . .

If after nine months, the able-bodied continue to need public assistance to survive, they would have to report to a facility that looks something like an army barracks and would be run something like a boot camp.

Residents there would be put to work, just like a “work release” program that prisons use for non-violent offenders. They would be expected to pick up trash along the side of the road, do whatever work is needed around the community, or go out to find work, or get schooling so they can qualify for work.

They would be expected to be back in the barracks after work. This would be a Spartan existence for them. They would have clean facilities and good nutrition, but very little freedom.

Their day would be highly structured, with regular testing for drugs. They would be required to attend evening educational programs focused on developing marketable skills. There would be no TV, no ping pong, no fun and games. Daily exercise would be mandatory and highly structured by a drill sergeant-type.

Some people might choose to live this way for the rest of their lives.  Most able-bodied people will surely want to find a way to get out of the barracks, get their freedom back, and move back into the productive economy — which they are free to do at any time.

But so long as they are on public assistance (living in the barracks), every minute of their time would be scheduled.

By the way, this is how deadbeat dads are treated. If you are a “deadbeat” dad not paying your child support payments, you are jailed. You are then put in a “work release” program where you either find a job and go to work each day, or the jail gives you a job picking up trash on the side of the road, or whatever other job needs doing.

The government then confiscates your paycheck, which is then used to feed your kids.

You then get out of this situation when you persuade a judge that you’re ready to start paying your child support. Most find a way to start paying their child support again.

This barracks-style welfare system, by the way, would just about eliminate the dysfunctional drug and prostitution economy that’s created a permanent underclass in America. People engage in these underground, black-market activities to earn cash that’s not reported to the IRS so they can keep their welfare benefits rolling in.

This “tough love” barracks system of welfare for the able-bodied ends all that nonsense, and would likely put the drug gangs out of business.

If you are an able-bodied adult, public assistance must become a last resort, an emergency situation — not a way of life . . . and certainly should not be used by Democrats as a way to buy votes. If you are long-term unemployed, we’ll find things for you to do. We’ll structure your day for you.

It’s important to emphasize here that this program would be VOLUNTARY. Entering this program would be a condition of the able-bodied, working-age American continuing to receive public assistance after nine months of receiving unemployment compensation. People would be free to leave the program at anytime.  But their public assistance pay would end also.

So there is nothing incompatible here with liberty.  It’s a program that would be available for those who want to participate in it.  But no more getting paid by taxpayers for sitting on the sofa watching TV if you are a working-age, able bodied American adult.

Surely there are large-scale TVA-style public works projects these people could be working on that would help the country. We used to have a government that was capable of tackling big projects — such as building the Hoover Dam.

Maybe we need a canal built or some levees to prevent another Katrina-type disaster.

By the way, this Barracks-style welfare program that requires work in exchange for public assistance probably won’t be cheaper than the system we have now. But it would be far more effective in lifting people out of permanent poverty. 

And welfare should all be handled almost entirely at the state level — with perhaps some block grants from the federal government to assist in areas of the country that have extreme poverty. There should be almost no federal administration of welfare on the principle that government works best when government is close to the people. Most of the governing in America should take place at the state and local level.

2) Crack Down Hard on Disability Fraud

The Barracks-system of welfare described above is for long-term unemployed able-bodied adults who need government assistance to live.

So this “tough love” welfare system would certainly create an incentive for people to fake back injuries and the like so they could go on long-term disability. Clearly, we would have to step up enforcement of laws against disability fraud — increase penalties, and the like.

Again, this becomes easier if we shift responsibility for all welfare and poverty programs back to states and local governments — where local officials are on the scene and are in the best position to police disability fraud.

For more from conservative writer Ben Hart go to

Part 1: What a Conservative Social Safety Net Would Look Like 

Coming tomorrow: Part 3 - one conservative’s take on Social Security 

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Punishment for being out of work

Mr. Hart's solution to a safety net for the unemployed is reminiscent of the CCC, gulags, concentration camps, and the worst of Charles Dickens' workhouses. Why should people be punished for being the victims of an economy created by an outsized and over regulating government? Mr. Hart is suggesting that we have a surplus labor force that is satisfied to take government assistance interminably, and the government must find a way to deal with them. Not everyone is a welfare cheat!

I don't care if the barracks life is VOLUNTARY. It separates families and there is no need to isolate (imprison) people while they are providing public service. President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich had the solution before Obama stepped in to wreck it without the legislative authority to do so.

Instead of wasting your time dreaming up public works projects and prison systems to absorb the work effort of the unemployed, why not do something positive? Create an environment where existing businesses will flourish and new businesses are encouraged to commence.

Ben Hart

Intriguing! Over the years I have enjoyed your occasional comments, of which some I agreed with and some I did not, but ... in any event you are an interesting thinker! Keep up the "intellectually interesting" work and try to explain to the other writers (including the editor, RV) who pontificate on this site that the usual "infantile pap" serves only to be preaching to a choir.

9 months is too long ...

These are intriguing ideas, but IMO nine months is too long for unemployment benefits.

Financial advisors usually recommend we have 3 to 6 months of cash savings on hand to tide us over in the case of sudden, unexpected loss of employment.

So I think 6 months should be the max. That is PLENTY of time to find gainful employment.

Notice I typed "gainful" and not "replacement" or "equivalent" employment. There is always work out there. It may not be what the person had, it may not pay what the person used to get, but work is always available.