The Real Injustice in New Orleans: The Welfare State’s Assault on the Productive Individual

by | Sep 23, 2005

Former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, now head of the National Urban League, complained on NBC’s Today Show on September 1 that the U.S. Government had refused to give funding for upgrading the city’s flood defenses. Numerous city and Louisiana State officials have made the same complaint. Some wanted the federal government to spend as […]

Former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, now head of the National Urban League, complained on NBC’s Today Show on September 1 that the U.S. Government had refused to give funding for upgrading the city’s flood defenses. Numerous city and Louisiana State officials have made the same complaint. Some wanted the federal government to spend as much as $14 billion over decades on the problem. In other words, city and state officials knew–as everyone in the region who read the newspapers knew–that the city’s flood defenses needed upgrading. But they spent their productive citizens’ tax money on the welfare state instead.

According to the US Census, Louisiana State & local governments spent $27.7 billion in fiscal 2002, when Morial was Mayor. That is more than $24,000 per family of four! Of the total, less than $900 thousand was spent on police. But more than $3 billion was spent on “public welfare,” another $7 billion net of revenue was spent on public education, another billion net on health care, and another billion net on “environment and housing.” Moreover, of the State and local governments’ $27 billion in revenue, $6 billion–more than $1,400 per capita–came from the federal government. Compare that to $1,100 and under $1,000 per person in the Bushes-governed Gulf-coast states of Texas and Florida, respectively; yet the federal income taxes paid by individuals in Louisiana is roughly $1,000 per capita less than in those other states. Nevertheless, or not surprisingly, the Louisiana and New Orleans welfare-statists brazenly complained that their federal comrades, including those at the welfare-state program known as FEMA, did not help them enough.

Cartoon by EM>Cox and Forkum

Note that the welfare state encompasses more than direct cash payments to people “on welfare.” It includes all socialist government programs, including all public funding of housing, health care (which on the federal level alone costs more than the entire military, even with the current military presence in Iraq), “Social Security,” and “education.” Indeed, of the $2,479-trillion federal budget in 2005, only $443 billion is for Department of Defense military. The great majority of the remaining two trillion–or more than $26,000 per family of four on the federal level alone–is for the welfare state.

Add up the federal, State and local expenditures, deduct double-counting, and you get roughly $45,000 per family of four spent in Louisiana each year on the welfare state! A small fraction of this amount, spent wisely over the years, would have been more than enough to fortify New Orleans against flooding.

The financial expense of the welfare state is really much more than this when one considers the financial effects of welfare-state regulations. Here’s just one of thousands of examples: Governments require that health insurance policies cover drug addiction, alcoholism, AIDS, psychosis, neurosis, child birth, and more, regardless of whether these conditions were prior conditions and regardless of an individual’s way of life. Last but not least on the welfare parade is environmentalism, which expands the welfare state to include care for non-humans, and the cost of which is incalculable in its prohibition on innovation. No wonder so many taxpayers struggle just to live from paycheck to paycheck.

Despite the heavy burden of the welfare state, most of New Orleans’ productive individuals evacuated before Hurricane Katrina hit. They have lost a great deal in the disaster, but they are productive individuals. They have studied hard, planned their lives, developed skills, worked hard, and saved. They will produce and prosper again, provided that their government does not weigh them down even more in the future.

Consider what went right in this disaster. American scientists saw the hurricane developing and communicated warning days in advance. Eighty per cent of the Americans in the area grasped the warning and took rational, well-planned, difficult action. They packed what they could, left dear possessions behind, and evacuated. Every individual who left the city, saving his own life, is a hero. These heroes–not just our soldiers, police, and firemen, who rescue others–exemplify the greatness of America. Heroes like this exist in America and other politically free countries, because freedom unleashes the independent thought and productiveness possible to every individual.

What about the 20% who did not leave? Of course, some of them–a very small percentage–were too sick or infirm. But what about the others? Ironically, the only partially valid excuse any of these people could have is that so much of their money goes to support the welfare state. But there is damning evidence against most of these people: 80% of their fellow citizens did get out; surely the evacuees are not all rich. Why didn’t the ones who stayed have cars or savings? Had they never heard the saying “save for a rainy day”? Had these people studied hard in school and adulthood in order to be productive, or had they coasted, or worse? If as adults they worked at all, had they worked a mere 35 hours a week, or 80 hours a week as was customary by immigrants who came to this country generations ago just to be free? Had they planned their personal lives before having as many children as they had? And when the warnings of the hurricane came days in advance, did they take responsibility to plan their actions? If they did not have a car, why didn’t they walk? In two days, a man, woman or child can easily walk 60 miles, far more than enough to reach safe ground.

Of course, many of these people lived their lives far worse than paycheck to paycheck. Many lived in government-subsidized housing projects, or welfare check to welfare check, or drug fix to drug fix, or robbery to robbery.

Every one of these people who stayed behind through his own unwillingness to manage his own life is a villain in this story. Not only did these people endanger their own lives and the lives of their children, but–by overburdening or even deliberately obstructing rescue operations–they got in the way of the rescue of those who actually needed and deserved to be rescued.

When the hurricane had passed, these non-producers were still in the city, and then they complained–with belligerence more appalling than their suffering–that no one was feeding and sheltering them anymore. TV news reporters lamented the “intolerable” conditions for the refugees at the Louisiana Superdome and New Orleans Convention Center, and seemed blind to what their own cameras were showing: big, strong men and women, standing around in the streets amidst their own garbage, taking no initiative, waiting for a bus. For me, a scene that symbolizes the whole situation took place when one of the many obese women yelled accusingly into a reporter’s microphone: “I haven’t eaten in five days!”

This is what happens when individuals expect others to produce for them, to plan for them, to think for them. They expect it, to their dying breath. This is what the welfare state has accomplished with the $45,000 dollars per year it taxes the average family of four.

It could be worse. Imagine how depraved these people would be if taxpayers were spending even more to help them. But that is what the welfare-statists are now clamoring for. President Bush, a welfare-statist in Republican clothing, has proposed spending as much as $200 billion on Katrina’s aftermath. Since the most damage was done to New Orleans, and since the government of New Orleans has done the most in complaining and evading its own guilt, the bulk of that money would probably be spent there. The population of New Orleans was about half a million people; as has been pointed out, $200 billion is $400,000 per person! We might as well cut a check for $400,000 for every New Orleans resident and be done with it; surely, most families of four would rather receive $1.6 million in cash than have their old city rebuilt. And then they could move to California and hope for the next big earthquake and next big handout.

One of the phoniest criticisms made by the welfare-statists is that money was diverted from the welfare state to the “war” in Iraq. What “war”? America is not in Iraq fighting a war. We are engaged in a welfare-state/police action for the ostensible benefit of “the Iraqi people,” just as welfare-statist President Kennedy engaged America in Vietnam to help the Vietnamese. If we had declared and fought an actual war against Iraq, as we should have done, it would have been over in an hour with probably no American casualties. (Ditto for waging war against Iran, Syria, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, etc.) And there would have been no net expense, because we could have paid for our effort with the oil we should have seized from our enemy. Instead, our President, continuing the socialist tradition of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’th Party, is attempting to rebuild infrastructure for “the Iraqi people,” and declares that the oil in Iraq belongs to “the Iraqi people.” Perhaps our President also thinks that if a man discovers oil on his own property in Texas, then that oil should belong to the “American people” instead of to the individual who discovered it.

It is not surprising that in both Iraq and New Orleans, our government officials encountered unforeseen difficulty, because they assumed that the people they were trying to rescue were “innocent” lovers of freedom. According to a welfare-statist, no man’s predicament is ever his own fault; and no man’s paradise is ever his own achievement.

The welfare-statists who bash Bush evade that George W. Bush is, like his father, one of them. George H. W. Bush was the most socialistic candidate for the Republican nomination for President in 1980. In his first of many betrayals of his capitalist rhetoric, Ronald Reagan chose Bush as his running mate, evidently to appease left-wing voters. Bush as President was more consistent with his own rhetoric than Reagan had been with his, introducing a “kinder, gentler nation”–i.e., more government welfare. George W. Bush has continued the long-standing trend, increasing domestic welfare spending (e.g., on his “prescription drugs” program) and resurrecting the save-the-world rhetoric of arch-leftist Woodrow Wilson in order to include foreign enemies under America’s welfare umbrella.

Indeed, America’s leftists, if they were more consistent, would support America’s spending money to help the poor Iraqi people. After all, the leftist code of altruism demands that we favor others–in this case, foreigners–over ourselves. Once again we see evidence that leftist intellectuals are actually less concerned with helping the poor than with attacking America. The leftists attack America because they are against the moral code that underlies America: the code of rational self-interest, implicit in the words “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

On September 1, in an editorial that did not even mention the Katrina disaster, The New York Times wrote, “Income inequality is an economic and social ill,” as if this statement were a truism. This statement is consistent with communism, not political freedom. It means that society must rob from the more productive to give to the non-productive. It is the code that underlies the welfare state. Until it is rejected in all its forms, the welfare state will continue to grow until it becomes full-fledged socialism and destroys human civilization.

The New York Times–like an agoraphobic resident of a 1930s pro-communist time capsule, deliberately blind to the millions of murders committed by socialist regimes over the last 75 years–often lays bare its evil moral code. But often this premise, that “income inequality is an economic and social ill,” is presented in more insidious ways. For example, many have commented that the suffering in New Orleans–by the poor who stayed behind–seems as extreme as suffering in Third-World countries, and they present this fact as a reproach against affluent Americans who do not suffer. Their unstated premise is that inequality of suffering is an economic and social ill.

Political freedom, which still exists in America more than anywhere else, is not designed to end poverty and suffering. A person who does not produce will be–more precisely, deserves to be–poor and miserable no matter what country he lives in and no matter how rich his neighbors are. The difference between a free country and a dictatorship is that in a free country an individual can produce if he so chooses. In a free country, the productive get richer, and the non-productive do not. Americans have the right to pursue happiness, not to have their happiness supplied by others. In short, you get what you earn. To those who reproach America for the 20% who stayed behind in New Orleans, I say: Look at the 80% who used their freedom and self-created knowledge and wealth to leave, unencumbered by others.

Here is an even more insidious variation of same evil premise. On September 7, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, patriarch of America’s First Family of the welfare state, said, “What the American people have seen is this incredible disparity in which those people who had cars and money got out and those people who were impoverished died.” Kennedy here is not directly attacking the fact that some people have cars and money and some people do not; he is attacking the fact that cars and money could be instrumental in survival. Other variants of this view are that everyone should be provided with the same level of health care and education, which are “essential services,” no matter their income level. In other words: Money should be only for luxuries. There should never be any incentive for someone to work hard for something really important such as food, or one’s health, or the safety of one’s family. The thinking, industrious man and the loafer deserve the same of all of that. Working hard and making money should be only for things you don’t really need anyway. In short, we should have socialism for anything important, and freedom only when it doesn’t matter much anyway.

Of course, this view is absurd. Our Founding Fathers did not fight for freedom just so that their progeny could play tiddlywinks. What we think of today as luxuries did not even exist back then. Freedom is and always will be a matter of survival. If this is news to anyone, he should take a look at countries whose farms are owned by the state.

The welfare state is a bottomless pit. No matter how much the producers give away to the non-producers, the non-producers will remain non-productive, unwilling to survive on their own effort. Unless Americans learn that it is moral to let most of these non-producers sink or swim–live or die–on their own, eventually we will all sink.

This passage from Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged articulates the antidote to the welfare state:

    “[I]f you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down on his shoulders–what would you tell him to do?”

    “I … don’t know. What … could he do? What would you tell him?”

    “To shrug.”

The producers in the world must learn to shrug.

Ron Pisaturo is a writer and philosopher. He has written a screenplay, The Merchant of Mars. Ronald Pisaturo is the author of A Validation of Knowledge, The Longevity Argument, The Merchant of Mars, and Masculine Power, Feminine Beauty.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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