Classic: Thomas Sowell Schools a Welfare Administrator

In the 1980s, a television show hosted by the economics Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman called Free to Choose (after Friedman’s book by the same name) aired on PBS, with great success. The pro-capitalism, anti-big-government show began with Friedman explaining a topic within politics and economics (episode titles included Created Equal, What’s Wrong with Our Schools?, Who Protects the Consumer? Who Protects the Worker? How to Cure Inflation, among others), followed by a debate afterwards.

President Ronald Reagan presented the introduction to one of the episodes in the series, as did Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In one of the notable debates, a young Thomas Sowell – universally regarded as one of the top conservative intellectuals and economists of his generation – faced off against a welfare administrator, picking off her arguments one by one. Watch below:

And his words on welfare today are worth sharing too. Here are some words of wisdom from his essay “The Mindset of the Left.”

“Poverty” once had some concrete meaning — not enough food to eat or not enough clothing or shelter to protect you from the elements, for example. Today it means whatever the government bureaucrats, who set up the statistical criteria, choose to make it mean. And they have every incentive to define poverty in a way that includes enough people to justify welfare state spending. Most Americans with incomes below the official poverty level have air-conditioning, television, own a motor vehicle and, far from being hungry, are more likely than other Americans to be overweight. But an arbitrary definition of words and numbers gives them access to the taxpayers’ money.

Even when they have the potential to become productive members of society, the loss of welfare state benefits if they try to do so is an implicit “tax” on what they would earn that often exceeds the explicit tax on a millionaire. If increasing your income by $10,000 would cause you to lose $15,000 in government benefits, would you do it? In short, the political left’s welfare state makes poverty more comfortable, while penalizing attempts to rise out of poverty.

He concludes with some powerful observation about who really benefits from the welfare state:

…the left’s agenda is a disservice to [the poor], as well as to society.  …The agenda of the left — promoting envy and a sense of grievance, while making loud demands for “rights” to what other people have produced — is a pattern that has been widespread in countries around the world. This agenda has seldom lifted the poor out of poverty. But it has lifted the left to positions of power and self-aggrandizement, while they promote policies with socially counterproductive results.

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Welfare hurts those it’s supposed to help. And the worst part is, the left knows it. It’s all about power.

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By Matt

Matt is the co-founder of Unbiased America and a freelance writer specializing in economics and politics. He’s been published... More about Matt

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