Safety Nets Ain’t So Safe

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It is a misperception that libertarians do not care about the poor, the disabled, and those who currently are on governmental welfare assistance programs. Part of that misperception comes from people who simply do not know or understand what libertarianism means, or about free markets, and so on. And part of that misperception is reinforced by none other than libertarians.

This is a good article. It covers the basics about why libertarians really do want to help the poor, the disabled and marginalized groups. All good stuff. And the writer even asked a great question:

“Why the misunderstanding of this ideology?”

The writer then segues into safety nets, which is not altogether wrong; but what’s missing is context. Let me give you an example: most people living on Social Security live on fixed incomes. They receive a check each month for the same amount of money. They also have to live by certain rules in terms of making money or finding a job, among other restrictions.

Fixed incomes are a terrible way to live, especially if you are poor. In fact, it is common for folks on Social Security to find themselves without money or food by the end of each month. Small and even subtle changes in prices and taxes can have a huge impact on those living on a single governmental check issued at the beginning of each month. This means any and all tax increases, whether done by administrative or legislative action, can have a directly negative impact on those living on fixed incomes.

And it’s not just those on fixed incomes that suffer when taxes increase: poor families struggle to adjust and cope when prices rise on things like their food (see this article). Clearly, a great way to help those on fixed incomes and poorer families is to lower taxes as this will help them afford more opportunities to buy necessities and so forth. But that’s not enough: private charities have a place in a libertarian society and can do a much more effective job with helping those in need to uplift themselves out of poverty and so on.

This leads me to a second thing libertarians can talk about: why we love charities. I prefer charities to governmental welfare programs because charities are generally smaller and are far more accountable than bureaucrats. More importantly, local charities can have a greater, positive impact on the people they serve, at least compared to governmental welfare programs, all things equal. Meanwhile, those same governmental programs must get their money somehow and somewhere, and unfortunately, those programs also are funded by the people they help: the poor and those on fixed incomes.

So, let’s stop the vicious cycle of taxing the poor to help the poor. In fact, if we can lower taxes all around, more folks will have more money to either help their family members in need, donate to charities that help the poor, or simply to buy a little more than just basic necessities. These are the things that people need to hear about, and these are the things libertarians can talk about, too.

Among the most compassionate people I have ever met are libertarians, and yet, the myth persists that libertarians generally do not care about anyone but themselves. I think it is beyond time to squash that myth once and for all, and a great way to do that is by talking about how taxes, fees, and fines can harm the poor and those living fixed incomes. Charities, better and more efficient than bureaucratic programs, should be advocated more so by libertarians, too.

If libertarians today have an image of being uncompassionate about helping those in need, it isn’t because we lack compassion or a desire to help others. It may be in part because we need to move past the terminology we use amongst ourselves and begin relating real-world experiences to real-world problems and solutions.

Public safety nets ain’t really so safe, after all.

Let’s talk about it.

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