Ever since President Obama's speech where he claimed, "If you've got a business--you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen" we've had non-stop discussion of this topic. And that is good. Our society should assuredly weigh the role that individuals have in their own lives - along with the impact that our laws and culture have.
For those who claim that what America provides to its people is important - no argument from me. The freedoms we enjoy, our underlying culture and values, the opportunities and wealth in our nation - all that aids us in having the chance to have good and productive lives. Yet, if you examine how each of us lives, if you are honest, you can see two aspects of a life. First, each of us is given talents and burdens - and each of us meets up with good and bad luck in a life. Still - overall, the odds are dramatically higher that those of us who do what we can to get a reasonable education, who work hard, who treat others equitably, and who plan for the future generally do far better overall than those who do not live their lives in this fashion.
So - what of President Obama's original speech? Is the president someone who also believes that hard work and grit is what matters most in life - and that, bottom line, successful individuals did indeed "make that happen?" Or, is Obama someone who buys the proposition that most of luck is just dumb luck. And thus, if that's the case, then the poor slobs who happen to make it big by chance are responsible for giving a tremendous amount of what's been "given" to 'em back to the rest of the unlucky devils who just were not in the right spot at the right time.
Arthur Brooks weighs in on this issue, and he's right on the money.
One recent administration action in particular contradicts the president's claim
that "you've got to earn your success." On July 12, the administration
unilaterally weakened the federally mandated work requirements for welfare
recipients. Since welfare reform was passed by Congress and signed into law by
Bill Clinton in 1996, the states have been required to have at least half of
adult welfare recipients in qualified "work activities"—actual jobs, or
participation in education or training programs. Now, however, Mr. Obama's
Department of Health and Human Services has announced that the agency will issue
waivers to the federal work requirement.
This is a dramatic change in direction. As Rep. Dave Camp (R., Mich.),
chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, flatly asserts, "This ends
welfare reform as we know it."
Indeed. If the president believed that hard work produced good results, then you would think he never would have cut back the requirement that to receive assistance, you need to put forth some effort.
Even if we forget about the inequity of having some work hard while others live off their neighbors toil, then we must remember the other aspect of welfare that is, as Brooks says, just as important - if not more: the dignity that comes with work and success.
There is evidence that it improved the lives of those who moved off welfare. In
the Berkeley Electronic Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy (2011), Santa
Clara University's John Ifcher showed, using data from the General Social
Survey, that single mothers—despite lost leisure time and increased stress from
finding child care and performing household duties while working—were
significantly happier about their lives in the eight years after reforms led
them into the workforce.
The central insight from welfare reform is that people flourish when they
earn their success, and this requires real market work. They escape poverty—and
they live dignified, better-ordered lives. They don't just move out of welfare;
they move up from dependence on the government.
Those of us who are able to take care of ourselves and our children, and better our own lives through our efforts and not from the dole don't just earn money; they earn pride and dignity and a faith in their own abilities. They are role models for their children and their neighbors.
If Obama really believed this, then would he alter our laws to make it tougher for those who have faced a difficult path to get on to the road to success?
I think not.