Able-bodied vs. plausible-no-fault-of-your-own tests

In “the old days” it seems like if you seemed able-bodied, you were expected to find something to do that was worthwhile. There was no dignity for burdening your fellow-man. There were plenty who were not able-bodied that needed our help, after all.

Somewhere along the line, that able-bodied test has morphed into any plausible excuse that you found yourself in an unfortunate position through no-fault-of-your-own, even if by most accounts you could have done a great deal to, at least, prepare for that inevitability.

All of us get in a bind now and then and can use some help, but once we ‘systematized’ that help, we removed the helpers from the helped and created a bureaucracy to administer in between the two. We changed the incentives.

Before the helpers would give friendly advice to those they helped to prevent them from needing help again. They provided gentle nudges and signals to the helped that planning was their responsibility. Perhaps you could have saved more? Maybe you don’t need to drive two Tahoes? Often, the helped was grateful enough for the help and being steered in the right direction, that they would come back and do the same for others. It was a virtuous feedback loop.

But, when we systematized it, we made it so that the helpers could just get by putting the right bumper sticker on their car. They voted for the right people. The people who will take a lot from the wealthy to help those who need it. All they need to do is demonstrate their choice to the rest of us and no more thought is needed.

The helped no longer needed to face the gentle nudges, signals and advice from the helpers.

And, the bureaucracy responds to incentives. The folks in it want to perpetuate their jobs. One way to do this is to work really hard to remove any stigma with being helped. I wonder how many people would take unemployment if there was even a minimal 10 hour per week work requirement attached to it.


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