Wednesday, September 07, 2011

No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

Ben Franklin said that “God helps those who help themselves,” but government helps those who don’t. In his recent book “After America,” Mark Steyn points out how many Americans have become dependent on government: “ . . . by 2004, 20 percent of U. S. households were getting about 75 percent of their income from the federal government [and] another fifth of households . . . receive about 40 percent of their income from the feds . . .” Is that the kind of republic Franklin had in mind when he worked at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia? No. I don’t think so.

So, government is supporting over 100 million of us, but can the rest of us afford to continue paying for it? No again. Under President Obama, we’re borrowing forty cents of every dollar we spend. We’re borrowing money we probably can’t repay. We’re borrowing money our children and grandchildren will have difficulty paying back, and we’re spending it on ourselves, not them. This is sinful.

Forty percent of Americans are hugely dependent on government. It’s also true that forty-seven percent of Americans pay no federal income tax. How much overlap is there between those two populations? Are we talking about the same people? In most cases, yes. How many of them are likely to vote for a congressman or a senator who says we must stop spending money we don’t have? Not too many when they discover that the only way to eliminate deficit spending is cutting back on the checks they get. We’re a country more and more divided between those who pay and those who get paid.

How long can we take money from our most productive and give it to our least productive? How long can we borrow from foreigners? Not much longer. The whole rest of the world doesn’t have enough money to keep lending to us - especially when they know we’re paying interest with dollars printed under Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s policies of “quantitative easing” and artificially low rates.

Too many Americans have learned that it’s easier to let government support them than to support themselves. Reflecting back on thirty-six years of teaching since my recent retirement, I saw a similar pattern in our government schools. A school district’s eligibility for federal money is often figured based on how many parents fill out forms that enable their children to get free or reduced-cost breakfasts, lunches and dinners. The higher the percentage of families who qualify, the more money the school or the district gets. Schools, therefore, are naturally disinclined to scrutinize financial data parents put on the forms. The tendency is to qualify all who apply. Parents and schools both benefit. Not all kids do, however, because some them will grow up to become the citizens expected to pay back the forty cents of every dollar spent on “free” lunches this year. The old adage still applies after all: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Just as an aside: if you saw how much of that food qualifying students throw in the wastebasket every day it would make you sick. People tend not to value what they don’t pay for, students included. Early in my teaching career, I noticed that custodians would save the discarded food for local pig farmers. Then federal government regulators ruled they couldn’t do that. Ever since, it’s gone into the waste stream.

The percentage of students dependent on expensive federal programs is increasing right along with the percentage of adults dependent depend on federal government checks. Students qualifying for federally-mandated special education are “coded.” Even though I earned an advanced degree in special education decades ago, I still have trouble deciphering criteria for certain codes. For a while at least, the simple explanation for someone qualifying as “learning disabled” was functioning at a grade level lower than what would be expected with his/her measured IQ score. The truly disabled had some measurable perceptual or processing deficiency. Others didn’t, but were nonetheless functioning below grade level, and were, therefore, coded. They received the special assistance of a teacher or an educational technician all through school. Several I got to know well over the years, and it was my personal and professional opinion that they simply didn’t want to do the work. They learned early to be helpless as teachers would administrators would lower the bar for them to pass on to the next grade. Every year I’d have several, and it was rare for even one to be kept back. Much more was spent on such students per capita than on those who did the work expected of them.From

Others were coded for behavior problems and that designation changed periodically as well as euphemistically. Some years it was “Behaviorally Handicapped.” Other years it was “Emotionally Disturbed,” and so forth. Some even got their own “educational technician” to follow them around throughout their school day acting as personal secretary or manservant. Parents of these children qualifed for so-called “crazy checks” amounting to several hundred dollars per month. The Urban Dictionary describes them as “often approved for simple and common conditions such as a child (usually in a single-parent household) who can't behave in school.” If their children learned to behave, their crazy checks would stop.

Teachers are encouraged to believe that every child comes to school ready to learn. Trouble is, too many learn that if they don’t work, others will support them. That’s the lesson they carry with them throughout their lives.

And we wonder why America is going bankrupt.


aliledar said...

Absolutely right and about time people woke up and stopped the damaging, enabling, touchy-feely policies that have bankrupted this country. I was going to recommend Mark Steyn's great new book After America to you, Tom,but I gather you have already read it. Everyone should. Its message is urgent and very disturbing.

Anonymous said...

You are right and I depend on a promise that my government made to me when I started working 56 years ago. My income from that is not large enough to require me to pay any taxes. However I did manage to contribute a lot of taxes over the years, and I apologize to no one. Thats how it is.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, you are absolutely right! No one is talking about payments from SS for eligible workers. You can't imagine all the other things that are paid for with SS collections. THAT's why it is broke!!

Tom McLaughlin said...

I'm not writing about people who receive SS pensions after working all their lives. I'm referring those receiving SSI and SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) benefits for things like ADHD - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - which is way over-diagnosed over the past two decades.

Children with ADHD and other behavioral diagnoses are eligible for monthly checks received by their parents.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, I am never sure who you are after.

Anonymous said...

So, ho many people do you know who are collecting checks for ADHD?

Anonymous said...

I did not know I had ADHD till I was 65 years old. Show me the money for a life that would have been probably different and likely screwed up by drugs meant to 'cure' me. I guess I was better off, but it sure made things interesting sometimes. Now that I know why I am like I am, I am fine with it. At 72 I can just say I am forgetful...

Tom McLaughlin said...

The following comment came to me from Anthony Cloutier, but didn't get posted properly:


You have taken the statistic of "20% of Americans receive 75% of their income from the government" completely out of context. Over 18% receive that money as part of their social security payment! Is that a sad commentary on our country, yes. It is sad that most Americans don't have larger nest eggs, or pensions (does you school one count?) to reduce the need to live below the poverty limit on social security.

Just don't bend the numbers to say what you really mean. You think the poor are getting a free ride, and you're mad about it. If that is true say it! But don't mis-apply numbers to "prove" your opinion is valid.

Tom McLaughlin said...

I'm not sure of your numbers Anthony. Mark Steyn footnoted in his book "After America" that he got the figures I cited from Congressman Paul Ryan.

What is "income"? Is it only Social Security payments? Are public housing or Section 8 housing figured in? Are food stamps considered as income? Is Medicaid income? Medicare? Heating assistance?

Even if we were to limit the discussion to Social Security, the first checks under that program went to people who never paid anything into it. It began under Roosevelt as a "pay as you go" system, but the only ones paying in were the young. The belief was that there would always be more young people than older people and the payment from the young would always be sufficient to cover the checks.

Then disability checks started being paid from the Social Security "Trust Fund" (what a misnomer that is), and those getting such checks never had to pay much in either to draw them. Now "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" plans would vest illegal immigrants with benefits after only ten quarters, or as few as one if they drew disability checks.

Then our demographics changed and American birth rates dropped to only 2.1 and that's the minimum just to maintain population. It wouldn't even be that high if it weren't for fertile immigrant women mostly from Mexico.

Now the unfunded liability for Social Security and Medicare alone are in the $100 trillion range.

Rick Perry is right that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme that robs the young, who will never get anything out of it.

My retirement is a state program I paid into for 34 years - not because I wanted to, but because I had no choice. Anyone drawing benefits had to pay in for years. The state didn't kick in its share every year, however, and Governor LePage is adjusting the state budget to make up the deficit.

Still, last time I checked, the Maine Public Employees Retirement Fund had assets around $10 billion. Do you know how much money there is in the Social Security Trust Fund after over seventy years of FICA payments by hundreds of millions of Americans?


The federal government spent it. All of it. Gore's "lock box" is full of IOUs.

Governor Perry is right: it's a Ponzi scheme promised to the gullible by Democrats to build a constituency and pass the bill to the future and it cannot continue without drastic modifications.

You think I'm angry that the "poor" are getting a free ride. Well, that's another subject that would have to begin by defining the "poor."

Anonymous said...

Statistics do what we tell them and what you want the people to hear. The ememy is still us.

Anonymous said...

Get off gov. Perry's jock! My god. He's a bafoon! Not only does he rip off Ron Paul he ran Al Gores campaign!!!

Anonymous said...

Tom & Anthony,
Save it for 'Taking Sides'! ;)

Tom McLaughlin said...

Hmm Anonymous. Is that sexual innuendo re Rick Perry?

Ron Paul makes a lot of sense on most issues and he's running a good campaign, I admit. I don't see him beating Obama though. Maybe Rand Paul in 2016 though.

If you're going to insult Perry's intelligence, do your homework: It's spelled "buffoon." Be careful to avoid seeming like one yourself spelling it the way you did above.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be playing grammar cop with sentences like the following: "Be careful to avoid seeming like one yourself spelling it the way you did above."

Anyway. How about perry working for gore?
And if you like Ron Paul why not endorse him over the obvious corporate puppet Perry?you really want more of the military industrial complex running the show?

The main stream medias treatment of Ron Paul is laughable.

Joseph said...

Yes, Tom, you are right. People should not be lying and twisting the system to get money from the government, even if it is a $200 check or a $2 lunch for their child. However, why is it that you never seem to rant and rave against the really big cheaters and manipulators of the system, the fat cats and corporations who twist and cheat their way into avoiding billions in taxes and actually get the government to pay THEM money? That should be the main concern, not some kids eating free lunch. Add up every penny that shouldn't have been given to students or their parents and it would be a single grain of sand on a beach compared to our debt and spending.

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't Tom rail against the cheating Fat Cats? Because the mouthpieces for these scumbags (Rush, Hannity, Beck, Faux News, etc) are protecting their asses by spoon feeding non-thinkers bullshit to distract from the real problems our country is facing. People like Tom will rant and rave about what they are told to rant and rave about. Sad.

Tom McLaughlin said...

Unfunded liabilities for Social Security and Medicare will bankrupt the country. That's why I harp on them. Tax breaks and bailouts for corporations can be eliminated in a year with the necessary political will in Congress and the White House.

I would favor a flat tax on everyone - corporations and individuals - no deductions, no breaks for anyone. No accountants, no tax lawyers, no H&R Block. Eliminate the IRS. Everybody pays the same percentage.

Social Security would be by voluntary participation only. Welfare of all kinds would be taken out of federal hands and handled by states, municipalities churches and private charities. Education too.

Winston Smith said...

You call that a debate? Ha!!

Imagine if we had a press corps that actually did their job!
Rather than prostitute for corporations.