As the welfare roles expand to cover more than 100 million Americans and Moody’s contemplates downgrading America’s credit, the debate over what the government can and should do about an expanding underclass is hotter than ever. It’s a common trope among proponents of an omnipotent state that small-government conservatives and libertarians secretly feel the poor are getting what they deserve. If “progressives” are to be believed, peeling back every conservative’s exterior of independence and fiscal responsibility reveals a misanthropic miser who has no sympathy for the suffering of others.
This opinion couldn’t be more wrong. To those who realize that individual liberty is the path to prosperity that has catalyzed a steady march toward a better human condition since the drafting of the Magna Carta, nothing is more painful than watching as the most vulnerable members of society are marginalized and exploited by the elite. But the culture of dependency runs so deep in our society that most people fail to realize that government is the chief cause of urban poverty as we know it. Throughout history, the poor have demonstrated remarkable tenacity and intelligence in the ability to survive extreme hardship — a dynamic which in free societies leads to class mobility. But acting as the agent of upper- and middle-class do-gooders, the government is denying the modern poor opportunities and keeps them locked in a cycle of dependency and powerlessness.
Nothing better illustrates the way in which government bureaucracy makes living in poverty even harder than the zoning laws and building codes which exist in nearly every American city. Take homelessness: in the vast majority of cases, the homeless would like to have a place to live, and they used to have one, but their circumstances changed and they can no longer afford it. Put another way, they’ve been priced out of the housing market, and without cheaper options available, they end up on the streets, or if they’re lucky, sleeping out in a car.
For decades, government subsidized “affordable housing” has failed to solve this problem. But with one stroke of the pen, lawmakers could end it: simply relax the zoning codes across America that prohibit multiple families from living under the same roof, or specify a maximum occupancy that raises per-person rent levels above what the poor can afford.
Comfortable, more affluent neighbors may not enjoy seeing the family across the street double up during hard times. But is their discomfort really a reason to make someone else’s family sleep on the street? Proponents of these laws will say that they’re necessary to prevent unhealthy, unsanitary and unsafe conditions. But that argument is the perfect illustration of the disease of dependency perpetrated by the government — why would planners in a far distant capital be better at judging the risks and benefits than those who own the home themselves? What if the alternative is to put a single mother and her child out on the streets?
Laws that forbid people to make decisions about themselves, their families, and their property are always couched in benevolent rhetoric. We are told that the government is here to help those who are bullied into submission. But what can the weak give to those in government to make it worth their while to offer protection from the strong? The starry-eyed platitudes of progressives are all well and good, but what is there in the nature of man to make it so? Nothing.
Government has always been by the rich and for the rich. It is a tool of the elite. Now that tool is bankrupt and exhausted. It has proven that it cannot provide for the welfare of the people and the whole of society stumbles under the weight of its mistakes.
No one is hurt more by statist intervention than those who are most vulnerable. Isn’t it time to let people live free?