The debate on welfare is structured around what people “deserve”. Critics of welfare argue that no one “deserves” assistance from the state. This is true. No one deserves to live in a country where wages are so low that working families cannot feed their children without government aid. No one deserves to have the accreditation requirements for well-paid employment cost more than the average household income. No one deserves to be denied food — period.
Welfare is need mistaken for desire. Wealth is desire mistaken for worth. Everyone in America is cashing in benefits, be it welfare checks or the credentials purchased with privilege.
It is hard to say most people “deserve” what they get. But some forms of exchange are more acceptable than others.
Critics fault the poor for their dependence, telling them to get a job or get an education, when jobs for the educated have disappeared. They tell them to work hard and climb the career ladder, neglecting to mention that it terminates at a locked door opened with a golden key.
Adam Smith famously proclaimed that the rich are “led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society.”
Today the invisible hand is not invisible because we cannot see it. It is because it is not there.
One does not have to reject capitalism to reject the corruption that has decimated the global economy, or the venality that prompts a crowd to cheer when the children of the poor go hungry.
We live in a time of noblesse oblige without the oblige — wealth disguised as merit and merit as a pretext for malice. Nobility dodges, nobility punishes. Nobility pretends it is not nobility, and tells us to take out short-term loans.
Read A government above the people at Al Jazeera English.