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Paul Ryan’s “Anti-Poverty” Program and What America Needs in this Vein

Paul Ryan hopes to make federal welfare more efficient by consolidating federal agencies, sending more federal welfare money to state governments as grants, requiring that states give some of that money to non-profits, requiring that states implement “work requirements and time limits for every able-bodied recipient,” and more.

If Ryan’s plan reduces welfare dependency and gives taxpayers better results for their dollars, it might represent a marginal improvement over current policy. But it is still riddled with political and moral problems.

To begin with, by taxing individuals and then giving that money to state governments to spend, Ryan’s plan creates an incentive for state governments to ask for ever more federal dollars. By increasing state governments’ dependence on federal funding—funding that necessarily comes with federal strings attached—Ryan’s plan further undermines the federalist system at the heart of American government. Also, by putting more non-profit charities on the federal dole, Ryan’s plan threatens to undermine the independence of private organizations, essentially making them de facto instruments of government. No doubt additional problems will surface if Ryan’s plan proceeds.

More fundamentally, Ryan’s plan calls for the continued violation of individual rights. The welfare state that Ryan’s plan seeks to preserve and make more efficient rests on the premise that a person’s wealth belongs to “society,” not to him, and that government may therefore confiscate a person’s wealth by force and redistribute it at will. As Brian Beutler of the New Republic points out, Ryan’s plan is contrary to the principles of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, some of which Ryan has claimed to embrace. Rand recognizes that a person has a moral right to keep and spend his wealth according to his own judgment and, therefore, that whether and how much he chooses to give to charity is properly up to him. (Of course, Beutler smears Rand, but that’s to be expected from anyone on the left.)

Given that most American voters support forced wealth redistribution and are unlikely to favor a politician who opposes it, it’s not surprising that Ryan promotes a marginally more efficient version of the fundamentally immoral welfare state rather than a plan that would begin to phase it out.

What America needs are politicians, pundits, and (more fundamentally) intellectuals who are willing to state the moral truths involved and explain the reasoning behind them in ways that rational Americans can understand and get behind. Let’s encourage that.


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