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Thomas Sowell
Thomas Sowell
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Dependency and Votes


Those who regard government "entitlement" programs as sacrosanct, and regard those who want to cut them back as calloused or cruel, picture a world very different from the world of reality.

To listen to some of the defenders of entitlement programs, which are at the heart of the present financial crisis, you might think that anything the government fails to provide is something that people will be deprived of.

In other words, if you cut spending on school lunches, children will go hungry. If you fail to subsidize housing, people will be homeless. If you fail to subsidize prescription drugs, old people will have to eat dog food in order to be able to afford their meds.

This is the vision promoted by many politicians and much of the media. But, in the world of reality, it is not even true for most people who are living below the official poverty line.

Most Americans living below the official poverty line own a car or truck— and government entitlement programs seldom provide cars and trucks. Most people living below the official poverty line also have air conditioning, color television and a microwave oven—and these too are not usually handed out by government entitlement programs.

Cell phones and other electronic devices are by no means unheard of in low-income neighborhoods, where children would supposedly go hungry if there were no school lunch programs. In reality, low-income people are overweight even more often than other Americans.

As for housing and homelessness, housing prices are higher and homelessness a bigger problem in places where there has been massive government intervention, such as liberal bastions like New York City and San Francisco. As for the elderly, 80 percent are homeowners. whose monthly housing costs are less than $400, including property taxes, utilities, and maintenance.

The desperately poor elderly conjured up in political and media rhetoric are— in the world of reality— the wealthiest segment of the American population.

The average wealth of older households is nearly three times the wealth of households headed by people in the 35 to 44-year-old bracket, and more than 15 times the wealth of households headed by someone under 35 years of age.

If the wealthiest segment of the population cannot pay their own medical bills, who can? The country as a whole is not any richer because the government pays our medical bills— with money that it takes from us.

What about the truly poor, in whatever age brackets? First of all, even in low-income and high-crime neighborhoods, people are not stealing bread to feed their children. The fraction of the people in such neighborhoods who commit most of the crimes are far more likely to steal luxury products that they can either use or sell to get money to support their parasitic lifestyle.

As for the rest of the poor, Professor Walter Williams of George Mason University long ago showed that you could give the poor enough money to lift them all above the official poverty line for a fraction of what it costs to support a massive welfare state bureaucracy.

We don't need to send the country into bankruptcy, in the name of the poor, by spending trillions of dollars on people who are not poor, and who could take care of themselves. The poor have been used as human shields behind which the expanding welfare state can advance.

The goal is not to keep the poor from starving but to create dependency, because dependency translates into votes for politicians who play Santa Claus.

We have all heard the old saying about how giving a man a fish feeds him for a day, while teaching him to fish feeds him for a lifetime. Independence makes for a healthier society, but dependency is what gets votes for politicians.

For politicians, giving a man a fish every day of his life is the way to keep getting his vote. "Entitlement" is just a fancy word for dependency.

As for the scary stories politicians tell, in order to keep the entitlement programs going, as long as we keep buying it, they will keep selling it.

To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His Web site is



8 Comments | Post Comment
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over lousy fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average of the world's great civilizations before they decline has been 200 years. These nations have progressed in this sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; from faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to Complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependency; from dependency back again to bondage.

-- Attributed to: Alexander Fraser Tyler
Comment: #1
Posted by: J Wilson
Tue May 24, 2011 4:38 AM
Thank you for that quote, J Wilson. My father used to quote the part about voting largesse from the public treasury, but I never knew where it came from. So true, and so chilling.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Maggie Lawrence
Tue May 24, 2011 6:57 AM
What was the point of this article? It gave no new information. It didn't offer a solution other than shut down the programs which lets face it - isn't a solution. This guy is an opportunistic moron. Get a real job, fool. Stop feeding the flames - do some real research - and then come up with some real questions and some real answers.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Diana
Tue May 24, 2011 9:56 AM
What's the matter, Diana? Your welfare check late this month or something? To be a senior fellow at Stanford University pretty much eliminates the "opportunistic fool" category. Sounds to me like Dr. Sowell hit pretty close to home to get such a rise out of you.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Maggie Lawrence
Tue May 24, 2011 10:25 AM
Re: Diana Are you some kind of imbecile? Of course he has proposed repair for our system. His criticisms are precise, his recommendations sensible and effective, and his wisdom respected by liberal and conservative alike. You show your stupidity in your assinine criticism of someone whose academic credentials certainly must exceed yours by a country mile. Please think before you post. I'm sure that if you do, people will actually take your posts seriously.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Jobe
Tue May 24, 2011 11:31 AM
This article speaks the truth about the government enabling welfare recipients to continue to live off the rest of us. I believe there should be only minimal help to get people through tough times, and it should be short term and also decrease in monetary value...especially for those that have a plethora of children to keep the money rolling in. The hard working are taking care of the lazy and it needs to stop. A quote I heard....Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he sits in a boat drinking beer all day! Silly, but that is about the way the "handout" programs are working! Thomas, I appreciate your insight to the reality of what is really going on. It is people like you that speak out and hopefully will get things going in the right direction.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Janet
Fri May 27, 2011 9:26 AM
Probably one of the best articles Dr. Sowell has written this year. If you can't understand what is going on, you might as well never grow up.
Comment: #7
Posted by: John C. Davidson
Sat Jun 4, 2011 7:57 AM
You know I really like to listen and read your opinions! They are spot on! I like to equate entitlements to drugs. Once the recipient becomes accustom to receiving something for nothing it becomes hard to take it away. This is exactly what drug dealers do to get new clients...They give drugs away and once the new client is hooked, they are dependent and will resort to just about anything to get they regular dose of drugs. I believe that the current administration wants exactly that. A dependency on entitlements to keep their voter base. Everything you say above is true. Poverty level individuals do not go without. They find a way to get the cell phones, vehicles, newest clothing, big screen televisions, etc. But tell them that you are going to take something away that they are getting for free and you are labeled as a person who doesn't care about the less fortunate. This is a very difficult predicament to be in. Especially when you have so many dependent on the government hand outs. I would never be elected to any office because my opinion is, "If you are not crippled, mentally ill, or elderly and entitled because you have paid into a system, you deserve nothing more than a few months assistance if you lose your job through no fault of your own to get back on your feet". After that you better find GOD and look to your local food pantry and church for assistance. I worry for OUR COUNTRY! We have lost the idea that we must help ourselves to be able to help others. It seems that helping ourselves these days means what else can I get from the cookie jar without having to contribute anything. I know someone who works in a school district that now give, free breakfast, lunch, and dental services. The population of persons looking for handouts increase every year. These handouts are not free to tax contributors. So I guess if you are on the receiving end, it all seems great, but when you are on the paying end you don't think it's such a great program. When you make it easier to put your hand out than to provide for yourself you have what we have right now, entitlements that will destroy our country both politically and financially. And that's my take on it.
Comment: #8
Posted by: Michael Beale
Sun Jun 5, 2011 10:08 AM
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