Destined to Fail
Chapter twelve of Charles Murray’s book Loosing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980 is entitled Incentives to Fail I: Maximizing Short-Term Gains. I believe that this title is very fitting and aims directly at the center of an issue of American policy, which has been characterized by many, both Democrats and Republicans as a failure. The social policy that was discussed is the American Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), which was designed to combat poverty in America by giving individuals money for food and medicine.
In Murray’s chapter he introduces two hypothetical Americans who were not married but had just given birth to a child. Murray purposely did not give the couple any distinguishing racial features (to eliminate prejudice) rather he gave the couple generic characteristics, such as they had only had a high school education, come from poor families, etc. Murray, uses this hypothetical couple in two scenarios one based in the 60’s and the other in the 70’s. His scenarios where aimed to show the reader how the system had failed. This failure was highlighted when the reader realized (much to my surprise) that in all possible scenarios the programs such as the AFDC seamed to coerce couples into remaining unwed because the benefits of remaining an unwed live in couple outweighed (financially) the benefits of marriage. This is due to the fact that under both legislative acts and court decisions a woman would loose her AFDC benefits if she was married because her husband’s income would be considered in to the equation of determining how much support she would receive under the AFDC.
What American social policy was resulting in was unwed couples who took advantage of the system. Couple would “shack up” and have babies. The more children they had the more money they would receive from the AFDC. I believe that this is a disgrace. What country would promote such policy? It was destine to fail. I understand that these policies were needed to combat the poverty that was evident in American in the 1960’s. However, a policy which gave a woman money (money that was barley enough to live) and tell them that they could only receive this money if there was no “men living in the house” was ridiculous. What we needed at the time was social programs that helped not only unwed mothers but also the entire family unit.
If a government is to have such social programs (something that I am opposed to) they need to address the issue completely. Don’t give an individual money for life, give them an incentive to get a job, give them training to become a contributing member of society. There is an old saying “give a man fish and he will have one meal were he want go hungry, but teach a man how to fish and he will never go hungry”. This is what the U.S. needed to do and what Bill Clinton attempted to do. We need to abolish the welfare system, as we know it. The new system needs to be one with a maximum period, were an individual can only receive benefits for a small period of time (24-36 month periods). The benefits should be a combination of hard dollars and job training. This would be cost effective, for not only would you be helping the poor, but you would allow them to become contributing members of society (all while lowering the unemployment rates).
It is sad to realize how much of a failure the welfare system was. But that is exactly what we as citizens need to do. We need to realize the failure and take steps in creating a system that is destined to succeed.