The number of Americans receiving “free” government benefits has soared, and this expansion seems unstoppable even as the economy recovers (see here and here). Less obvious than the depressing numbers is how this assistance inculcates a dependency inimical to a free people. The culprit is not free food, subsidized housing, and all the rest per se, though these certainly do not help. After all, Americans have always received government help during tough times, but this aid scarcely undermined the spirit of independence. Nor is the growing national debt the guilty party. During World War II, for example, government borrowed billions, yet nobody spoke of this liability as breeding hopeless dependency.
The culprit is how these benefits are distributed. It is their non-contingent, open-ended character that breeds destructive pathologies. It is these traits that separate today’s munificence from past generosity, and this element is all too easy obscured by burgeoning costs.
In a nutshell, receiving a temporary handout that depends on doing something worthwhile is wholly unlike receiving the identical assistance sans any obligation and for however long as the recipient remains legally eligible.