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What do you mean by that?

Charity/government dependency

Government dependency is the new form of slavery.

► internet meme

Charity toward others is widely held to be virtuous – no argument to that will appear here – and when freely donated giving does a tremendous amount of good in the United States and around the world. We recognize as much officially when we make charitable donations tax-deductible. And while private charities do their work in widely variable ways – some much better than others – there’s a good argument to be made that the better ones, at least, are more efficient and better-targeted than many government programs.

However. The amount of charitable giving is limited and, large as the cumulative numbers are, far short of what would be needed to solve the needs of the many people in trouble, and far short of what is available, and dispensed, through public coffers.

When we consider charity in a social context, the central factor is that our society is supposed to be run by … us. And the old saying is true in ways more than one: Beggars cannot be choosers.

When we are reliant on the good will and purely discretionary decision-making of another person, we have little ability to oppose them. On such economic and business relations can the whole concept of a government of, by and for the people fall apart.

Advocates of the free market and critics of government make just such an argument about government dependency: You can’t have a free people who are dependent on government largess.

You could consider “government dependency” a subset of charity – the public option, as it were – and many self-described conservatives do. “Government dependency” has gotten loads of attention from economic conservative think tanks, publications, politicians and organizations.

In September 2012, when comments on the subject of government dependency led to trouble at the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, Matthew Spalding wrote1 “For most of American history, the average farmer, shop owner or entrepreneur could live an entire life without getting anything from the federal government except mail service. But those days have gone the way of the Pony Express. Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that 49% of the population lives in a household where at least one person gets some type of government benefit. The Heritage Foundation’s annual Index of Dependence on Government tracks government spending and creates a weighted score adjusted for inflation of federal programs that contribute to dependency. It reports that in 2010, 67.3 million Americans received either Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Social Security, support for higher education or other assistance once considered to be the responsibility of individuals, families, neighborhoods, churches, and other civil society institutions – an 8% increase from the year before.”

Spalding and his sources were undercounting. We all benefit from good roads, clean water and air, various forms of infrastructure (don’t forget that the internet started as a federal government project) and much more. Businesses rely on governments for everything from property records and courts to enforce contracts to police, public works, regulation (of one’s vendors and customers even if not of oneself) and much, much more. If you live in America, or in many other places, you’re “government dependent” to some extent or another.

Many of the people using the phrase “government dependent” don’t mean all that, of course; they usually narrow it to persons who receive personal funds from the federal government. (State funds are less often included, though they could as well be; the combination simply may be harder to calculate.)

The argument was put clearly in an opinion piece from the Heritage Foundation:2 “By the next election, the majority of Americans3 will be dependent on the federal government for their health care, education, income, or retirement – at the same time the number of taxpayers paying for these benefits is rapidly shrinking. How can any free nation survive when a majority of its citizens, now dependent on government services, no longer have the incentive to restrain the growth of government?”

Not only that, the critics argue: It weakens the fiber of Americans. It’s an argument for rugged individualism: The vision of the hard-working person who makes their own way.

There are other effects. Columnist George Will pointed out, “As dependency on government for various entitlements has grown, so has another kind of dependency. A perverse form of entrepreneurship is spawned as economic interests maneuver to become dependent on government-provided opportunities. As people become more deft at doing so, government becomes an engine of unearned inequality.”4 He doesn’t mention there, though I will here, that some business developers have been known to take advantage of the same thing.

Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said5 “charity was never supposed to be a function of the federal government.”

The relationship actually is more complex than this, though.

A psychoanalyst wrote in 2012,6 “In business, an example of pathological narcissism would be an entrepreneur who refuses to take a loan from parents, a bank or use credit in any way, even to start a new business or salvage one that was failing, for fear that such dependency on others for financial support would weaken him. Clearly, most businessmen and government leaders do not fall into this category. They believe that dependency on others for credit and loans is necessary for the success of their businesses. Similarly, Paul Ryan, who argues against dependency on government, asked for and thankfully received financial help from the federal government to assist workers who were displaced from the closing of a GM plant in his congressional district of Janesville, Wisconsin.”

Then there was the famous rant by Elizabeth Warren (in her pre-Senate days) arguing, “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there – good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. . . . You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea – God bless, keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”7

Beyond that, it does beg this question: What’s the alternative? If vast numbers of Americans receiving funds from the public – which funds the government – for their “health care, education, income, or retirement” were not getting those funds, what would become of them? Should they go uneducated, starve, be turned out into the street and sicken and die for lack of health care? What the the realistic non-public option? Allowing for the prospect that some of these recipients might have productive options, there’s no credible case than more than a modest portion of them do. Wages and even business enterprise would not be enough to sustain them all.

This brings us back to private charity, often noted as the preferable option. Charities can be, and usually are, good things. But from the social perspective, there’s a limit to this too.

Benefits received from the public (and yes, from the public, from the taxpayers and from their representatives are not charities in the same charitable sense of discretionary giving. Benefits such as “food stamps”, Medicaid and support payments are based on means and other independent conditions. You either qualify or you don’t: Your receipt of those benefits doesn’t depend on whether someone happened to fell kindly toward you that day. It’s a structured part of an established system. It may not (and it doesn’t) always work optimally, but the concept is to provide help on a reasonably objective basis, based on what the people at large, and their elected representatives (and their employees) set up.

What may make recipients supplicants of a sort. But not beggars, because while they do have to request, they do not have beg. And their requests will not be approved or denied – at least not legally – on a personal whim.



3The exact number seems to be slippery; this quote comes from 2001, but in 2012 the number was estimated at 49%; see the Spalding article noted earlier.


5Ken Cuccinelli, in the book The Last Line of Defense: The New Fight for American Liberty, Crown Forum, 2013



Christian nation

The world view in which the Constitution is moored is the Judeo-Christian world view. Therefore, the ultimate foundation of the Constitution is Judeo-Christian religious/theological values and views, revolving around a theistic God. The ultimate foundation of the Constitution is not the Humanistic world view, demanding that a human agent or group of human agents (i.e., judicial elite) ravage the Constitution with Humanistic perspectives, purposes, and values. Indeed, our constitutional republic will increasingly malfunction and eventually collapse if severed from its Judeo-Christian foundation.

► Eagle Forum, 20031

Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion” the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.

► Thomas Jefferson, 1821, writing about debate for the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom (bold added)2

Evangelical leader Robert Jeffress said on his website,3 “The politically incorrect truth is, the vast majority of the men that founded our nation were evangelical Christians. In fact, 52 out of the 55 signers of the constitution, the framers of the constitution, were evangelical believers. These very same men went on to form organizations like the American Bible Society, the American Tract Society, and the Philadelphia Bible Society.”4

Well, no: That isn’t the truth.

The term “evangelical” carried a very different meaning in the 1700s than it does today, and evangelicalism as it then existed was small in scale among the churches in the New World and was only beginning to make its way in America in the 1770s (it was not founded at all, in the Old World, until the late 1730s). The people of the 13 colonies, who until the revolution knew each other and communicated but little, came from widely varying religious traditions – from the Catholicism of Baltimore to the Quakers of Pennsylvania to the Puritans of Massachusetts to the establishment Anglicans and frontier Baptists of Virginia – and lived in an era when free-thinking – putting some distance between oneself and the local church – was far more commonplace than it had been before or would be again for many years. And on and on.

One website advocating the idea of the United States as a Christian nation5 offers this 1892 quote from Supreme Court Justice David Brewer, from a Supreme Court opinion, as key evidence:

“[I]n what sense can [America] be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or that the people are in any manner compelled to support it. On the contrary, the Constitution specifically provides that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’ Neither is it Christian in the sense that all its citizens are either in fact or name Christians. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within our borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all. Nor is it Christian in the sense that a profession of Christianity is a condition of holding office or otherwise engaging in public service, or essential to recognition either politically or socially. In fact, the government as a legal organization is independent of all religions. Nevertheless, we constantly speak of this republic as a Christian nation – in fact, as the leading Christian nation of the world.”

Why then, with all these arguments against calling the United States a Christian nation, should it be so considered? Brewer, who seemed to spend most of his statement arguing against the proposition, offered this: “so wrought into the history of this Republic, so identified with its growth and prosperity, has been and is so dear to the hearts of the great body of our citizens, that it ought not be spoken of contemptuously or treated with ridicule.”

This is awfully weak tea: A thing is so “identified” with a second thing that the second thing must to define itself in the context of the first?

Let’s allow for this much: Christian churches, leaders and teachings have been a central component of this nation’s history since settlers came to it from Europe. In the last three centuries various forms of Christianity have been the dominant religion in the United States, and – even as the numbers have fallen in the new millennium – it still is, as there are far more self-defined Christians in the United States than people defined religiously in all other ways put together. In various ways, for causes great and lesser, Christian leaders and followers have made a tremendous difference in the development of American history and society.

But the only references to religion in the United States’ governing document – its constitution – are the bar against religious tests for public office, and the provision for freedom of religion, as Brewer correctly said: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

That’s significant, because many nations in the world – the large majority at the time of the nation’s founding, and many today – do emphatically put their foot down on religion, imposing what is required and what is banned. The Freedom from Religion Foundation6 (which obviously takes a contrary perspective) argues, “No one is deprived of worship in America. Tax-exempt churches, temples and mosques abound. The state has no say about private religious beliefs and practices, unless they endanger health or life. Our government represents all of the people, supported by dollars from a plurality of religious and non-religious taxpayers. Some countries, such as the U.S.S.R., expressed hostility to religion. Others, such as Iran, have welded church and state. America wisely has taken the middle course – neither for nor against religion. Neutrality offends no one, and protects everyone.”

Except that it doesn’t exactly offend no one. It does offend the people who want a declaration that the United States is a Christian nation – their kind of Christian, presumably, and not some other kind.

But beyond that simple declaration, what would a determination of the United States as a “Christian nation” mean? Would it have no practical effect on the current sense of religious freedom – but then, if it had no meaningful effect, what would be the point? What would it translate to specifically? Would Americans be required to go to church every Sunday? (No variations allowed? Some denominations look at this differently.) Which denominations? What’s Christian and what isn’t?

Or, we could just say that religion is a matter of personal conscience and peaceful assembly, with everyone allowed to do as they choose as long as they infringe on no one else’s rights to do that same. That might be a lot easier.




4The list of organizations for this context is highly misleading. The American Bible Society was not formed, for example, until 40 years after the Declaration of Independence, and its leaders included few of the original governmental leaders. The American Tract Society was founded in 1825, and the Philadelphia Bible Society in 1838. Religious activism during the Second Great Awakening, along with – in many cases – anti-Catholicism, prompted their creation decades after the nation’s founding.



Open borders

[Tweet] MONSTER 1-Don’t Follow Me‏ @tatumjobs


Open borders: the efficient, egalitarian, libertarian, utilitarian way to double world GDP.

► Bryan Caplan

Democrats don’t care about the impact of uncontrolled migration on your communities, your schools, your hospitals, your jobs, or your safety. Democrats put illegal immigrants before they put American citizens. What the hell is going on?

► Donald Trump at a June 20, 2018 rally at Duluth, Minnesota

There is a real concept, embraced by some people, called “open borders,” and it is this: A line between two governmental jurisdictions across which people can pass with little or no restriction; passage of goods may or may not be controlled. Most borders between states in the United States are like this (with limited exceptions, such as stops to check for banned plants when entering California). Many countries in the European Union have open borders with each other, and this approach can be found in a few other parts of the world as well.

No one in the mainstream of United States politics, however, has called for open international borders for this country. That isn’t to say the idea has no backers; check out the Twitter hashtag #OPENBORDERS and you’ll find quite a few. But at this writing, the idea isn’t close to the center of American politics, on either the left or the right, and hasn’t been seriously pursued.

Some countries, from time to time, have closed borders, an opposite to open borders, which involves banning most passage across, as in the case of the border between North and South Korea, and in some places around the Caucasus mountain countries. These are relatively uncommon globally.

The norm for international borders – the major exception being much of the European Union – is the controlled border. At a controlled border, people and goods mostly are allowed to pass, but with some limits, restrictions and in some cases prohibitions. (Carrying weapons or certain drugs across a controlled border often is forbidden, for example.) Most countries presently and for many years have exercise some control over entry and exit.

The United States does this, as it has for generations, at all of its borders. If you want to travel to or from the United States from, let’s say, Canada or Mexico, you have to pass through border security, and you might be turned down (heading either way). The United States border with Mexico sees about 350 million legal crossings every year.

It is, in the context of the nation’s history, actually a relatively new development. While customs operations (to check for taxes owed and other issues) were set up at ports almost from independents, the borders were not patrolled for many years. The first efforts at it, as a project of the Department of Commerce and Labor, did not begin until 1904, and were not significantly organized until the Labor Appropriations Act of 1924, when the Border Patrol was created to monitor both the northern and southern U.S. borders.

In the 2010s, the Border Patrol has moved into uncharted territory …


The principle driving our work is simple: move individuals and families from homelessness to safe, affordable homes, and provide the healthcare, employment and supportive services they need to maintain long-term stability. When we do this, households large and small become part of thriving, interdependent communities.

► Colorado Coalition for the Home, 2017 report

“The homeless” is a phrase often uttered with, you might say, good intentions at least – and with a sigh and a sense of concern.

Writer Elisabeth Parker has urged the word be dropped:1 “This term is downright dehumanizing … It makes it easy for us to dismiss our fellow human beings as faceless losers or crazy drug addicts, even though ‘homeless’ people come from all walks of life. When we talk about helping ‘the homeless,’ people’s eyes glaze over with ‘compassion fatigue’ – a term that was coined back in the 1980’s when the ‘homeless problem’ got out of control so people wouldn’t have to feel bad about it. … Instead, let’s try Unhoused: The term ‘unhoused’ far better describes the state of people we now call ‘the homeless.’”

Maybe at least “homeless” ought to be kicked out of its status as a noun, and returned to adjective status where it belongs – so that people are not being labeled, in full, for the fact that they do not at present have a fixed residence.

Or if used as a noun, then to describe a condition rather than a person, as in: “Homelessness describes the situation of an individual, family or community without stable, safe, permanent, appropriate housing, or the immediate prospect, means and ability of acquiring it. It is the result of systemic or societal barriers, a lack of affordable and appropriate housing, the individual/household’s financial, mental, cognitive, behavioural or physical challenges, and/or racism and discrimination.”2

The situation is large.

A federal Department of Housing and Urban Development study in January 2016 found that 549,928 were homeless on one night, which probably understates the actual size of the problem since many people go into and out of shelters, or simply can’t be found to be counted at a specific time.3 (About 40,000 of the counted were veterans.)4 Nor is it entirely urban; many smaller and rural communities have serious homelessness issues.

The social situation is complex, more so than many people who apply the word “homeless” – and then drop the matter – would like to admit. Addictions, mental illness and domestic violence, in some cases inadequate health care – are problems that mesh over into each other and each contribute to the number of people without housing. The lack of affordable housing in large sectors of the country doesn’t help. But as the reasons are many, solutions do not come easily.

Many people on the street do not consider themselves “homeless” and rebel at the term. A protest – or artistic statement; it could have been either – in the San Francisco Tenderloin in 2016 went after the label. One person was quoted, “I have a home. It’s Palo Alto. I’m unhoused.”

Part of what makes the word so hard to grasp is its nebulous nature, which is why “homeless” seems passive rather than active. Some in that unhoused population are people, even at full-time jobs, who cannot afford housing in a market where housing prices have blown up; but these people account for only a portion. Another portion (larger than the first) have conditions or track records – mental illness, criminal or violence issues or other problems – that make obtaining housing difficult even if they had cash in hand. Not everyone in the population even wants conventional housing; some consider themselves “sovereign citizens” (which see) and perceive an inherent right to park their RV, tent or whatever where they choose, and plug into a local electric or water supply without charge. The homeless problem is difficult in part because no one solution will work for all the people it is intended to help.

A leader of a homeless assistance group commented, “When they think of ‘home,’ ‘home is where the heart is,’ right? ‘Home’ is where you feel a connection and you’re going to go back there after you do something else out in the world. It’s where you go back to. It’s where you think of as your space for the night or for a longer sense.”5

Or where you have neighbors.



3Numerical estimates vary: “For example, preliminary data from the U.S. Department of Education reported that 1,354,363 homeless children and youth were identified in the 2016-2017 school year by public schools – a 4% increase from the 2015-2016 school year and a 70% increase from the 2007-2008 school year – the highest number on record. Head Start programs also reported record levels of homeless children, from 26,200 homeless children in 2007-2008 to 52,764 in 2016-2017 – a 100% increase.”



Jobs not handouts

Give people real jobs, not handouts.

► Former New York Lieutenant Governor Betsy McCaughey1

A question and answer from the discussion web site Quora, in October 2017.2

The question: “Do the Democrats understand that poor people who vote Republican might simply want jobs and not handouts?”

The answer: “This question sets up a false choice and does so in a largely deceptive manner. Consider this analysis. The question is framed so as to imply that Democrats do not support the creation of jobs and favor welfare instead. That is simply false! If we set aside partisan rhetoric, it demonstrably true that over the past 75 years Democrats have had a substantially better job creation record …”

The answer has a reasonable frame here. An either-or is being set up by the premise in the question, when there is no conflict between the two ideas: Provision of jobs or handouts does not cancel out the other. There have been no government initiatives, under either political party, specifically to prefer governmental payouts to people over job income.

The premise in the question can, however, be found all over the American political landscape.

The Association of Mature American Citizens, 2014: “Americans Need Jobs, Not Handouts.”3

Columbia University: “Jobs, Not Handouts.”4

Then there was this, from Ivanka Trump, the New York heiress and daughter of the president: “I don’t think most Americans, in their heart, want to be given something. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling around this country over the last four years. People want to work for what they get.”5

Just the way she did, of course.


2from Quora, by Camille Khoury, October 30, 2017.




Death tax

Economists tend to see the estate tax as one of the most economically harmful taxes per dollar of revenue raised. By raising the estate tax threshold and ultimately repealing the estate tax outright, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would remove an impediment to economic growth.

► Jared Walczak, senior policy analyst, Tax Foundation

We support the total abolition of inheritance taxes.

► Idaho Republican Party platform

Frank Luntz, broadly credited as the popularizer at least of death tax, said in his book Words that Matter, “Sure, some object that the term ‘death tax’ is inflammatory, but think about it. What was the event that triggered its collection? You pay a sales tax when you are involved with a sale. You pay an income tax when you earn income. And when you die – if you’ve been financially successful – and forgotten to hire really smart and expensive accountants – you may also pay a tax. So what else would you call that, if not a death tax?”1

The short answer is, you call it an “inheritance tax” or an “estate tax,” not only because those are its proper names but also because that reflects what is actually taxed. Death is not taxed. “Death tax” suggests that a tax will be imposed on anyone who dies. It does not. Period.2

That’s true most simply because the dead person isn’t around anymore to pay it. The “you” who was financially successful will not, however much money you made, pay an inheritance tax. The heirs do. “You” will be dead, and pay taxes of any kind nevermore.

But only a few heirs will ever pay, either. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out that “Only the estates of the wealthiest 0.2% of Americans – roughly 2 out of every 1,000 people who die – owe any estate tax.” And it’s not as though all of that inheritance is seized: “Among the few estates nationwide that owe any estate tax in 2017, the effective tax rate – that is, the share of the estate’s value paid in taxes – is less than 17%, on average, according to the Tax Policy Center.”

Luntz makes a passing feint at this with his reference to “financially successful,” but the fact is that if you’re not inheriting $11.18 million, you don’t pay this tax at all.3 Are you not a millionaire? Then this tax does not apply to you. Probably it won’t even if you are.

Take notice too of Luntz’ mention of the “really smart and expensive accountants.” Many people who would qualify for paying the tax do not because they’ve apportioned their wealth in creative enough ways to avoiding it – and the tax code is larded with such loopholes.

The argument is often made about small businesses and especially farms that family members would like to pass on to children. Decades of desperate searches by anti-estate tax advocates have come up dry in finding instances. But then, these are areas where political compromises and levels can be had. The $5.5 million cutoff level, for example, is arbitrary, and efforts have already been made in the law to allow for keeping family businesses in the family. If need be, more can be done.

Some apologists for the phrase like Walczak try to make the argument that the tax somehow constrains the economy. What it does is push back, only gently, against the concentration of wealth into ever fewer hands, and into the ranks of those who did nothing to generate it: The heirs are not business founders or economy expanders. There’s no social interest in pouring oceans of money into their ranks, as has happened in recent decades. There’s a considerable social benefit to restraining it.

1The Cato Institute produced a report called Grave Robbers: The Moral Case against the Death Tax.

2A linguistically closer match would be the common mortgage – a large loan, as for a house – which many or most people do pay. it is not a tax, but the word mortgage derives from the phrase “death pledge,” which could give home buyers a brief pause.

3In addition to the fedeeral government, six states out of 50 collect inheritance taxes.

Porn/red meat

It’s not just for sex any more.

The use of an abbreviated “pornography” has been in basic usage for at least a few generations. It still carries that meaning, but the word has expanded its usage considerably.

Back in the latter 20th century, film critic Pauline Kael occasionally used the descriptive form “porny” to get at a quality in something in a movie, and not necessarily something sexual. The idea related more to a surface glam appeal designed to reach people at a visceral level, almost in the way a particularly appealing food or alcoholic drink might.

That approach to the word – getting at some of the underlying appeal rather than just one of its manifestations – is another good example of how the use of words has broadened so much, especially in the new millennium.

Writing in the New York Times,1 philosophy professors C. Thi Nguyen and Bekka Williams took stock in 2019 of the ways the word is getting used as a descriptor: “Sometimes ‘porn’ is used as an accusation, as when you call out some artist who takes photographs of impoverished foreigners for making ‘poverty porn’. The comedian Alex Moffat teased an audience last year for its obsession with ‘impeachment porn’ – and everyone knew exactly what he meant.” Food porn has moved into common usage: Think of all those completely delicious pictures of edibles you see in ads for restaurants and other food purveyors.

You may get the sense from those examples that the word, used in an adjective sense rather than a noun, may be more popular on the left than on the right, and that seems to be the case. The meaning there relates partly to the idea that the emotional wallop becomes separated from thoughtful consideration (or working toward solutions, where problems are involved) at the expense of immediate emotional satisfaction, and that dynamic seems more active on the Democratic than Republican side of the fence. Political porn? Look at talk radio or certain cable TV news channels, among other locations.

There’s a near-equivalent used much more on the right than on the left (though to some extent in both): red meat. This goes back to the 1940s and references to “serving red meat to the crowd.” The site StackExchange2 noted a growing usage in news reports (“Republican candidates served red meat speeches for breakfast at the kick off for the whistle stop tour through North Florida”). A commenter there suggested, ‘“Red meat’ and ‘raw meat’ allude to an old idea that working dogs should not be fed uncooked meat because it was thought that it would cause aggression. [That suggests it means] to throw out, serve up or otherwise provide an audience with material that will rile them up.”

There you can see the distinction between the two usages – porn as something that will provide an easy, temporary satisfaction, and red meat as something to serve as upsetting – and how they reflect some of the partisan differences of the new century.