May 9, 2014
Unlike, say, an old-age pension awarded after a lifetime of work, a bestowal of charity or aid to the indigent is a transaction that establishes a relationship of dependence. As a people who have prized their independence, financial as well as political, Americans throughout history have attempted to avoid dependence on “relief” and other handouts. Recovery from the Great Depression was corroborated by the great decline in the numbers of Americans on public aid: In 1951, the commissioner of Social Security was pleased to report that just 3.8 percent of Americans were receiving public aid, down from 11.5 percent as recently as 1940. But with the War on Poverty and its successor programs, such dependency has become routine. The United States today is richer than at any previous juncture—yet, paradoxically, more Americans than ever before are officially judged to be in need. Welfare dependence is at an all-time high and by all indications set to climb in the years ahead.
As LBJ aide Joseph Califano Jr. told USA Today in March, “This world that we’re living in today is more Lyndon Johnson’s world than the world of any other president.”
At least until the bill comes due.