Shameless Behavior

W.E. Heasley, of the Last Embassy, points to a troubling study on recipients of the Social Security Disability benefit.

One excerpt from a survey of 2,300 that I hope is not representative of the 11 million SSDI recipients:

Returning to work is not a goal for 71 percent of the SSDI recipients, 60 percent of the SSI recipients.

Here and here I wrote about feedback loops that use to keep such behavior to a minimum. I think those feedback loops are broken.

Update: In the comments, Mike states it well:

Not only is the old negative feedback loop – shame – broken, a new positive feedback loop – pride in gaming the system – has taken over.

He also pointed out that, in this case, ‘gaming the system’ means ‘pulling one over on their fellow citizens.’

This reminds me of a point that Daniel Hannan made about localism of welfare in his book, The New Road to Serfdom, which I wrote about here (in the last part of the post). His point is that the more local a welfare program is made, the more likely it is to retain the shame feedbacks and the less likely it is to pick up the ‘pulling one over on the system’ feedback.

Why? Because, now instead of pulling one over on some faceless and distant third parties spread across the country (Federal taxpayers), they’re pulling one over on their more direct neighbors and they a bit more incentive to speak up about being taken for granted.


10 thoughts on “Shameless Behavior

    • now i understand. the excerpt lacked context for me as i did not understand the difference between ssdi and ssi. seemed more awkward than it was.

  1. In contrast to people of years gone by, people (in general) today are not only unashamed the be on the public dole, many seek to be on the public dole for trivial or non-existent problems and brag about the fact that they are pulling one over on “the system” (i.e. their fellow citizens). Not infrequently, this involves people who have grown up in a culture that places value not on honor, honesty and hard work, but on an “ends justify the means” barbarism. These miscreants have been led to believe that their failures are due to failures of our institutions rather than their own shortcomings. Hence, they justify what is, in essence, stealing on the basis that they are stealing from “the system” rather than other individuals.

    Not only is the old negative feedback loop – shame – broken, a new positive feedback loop – pride in gaming the system – has taken over.

  2. I mostly agree with Mike. I would also add that there’s a culture of entitlement at work here, and that people who grow up and live around others who cheat the system, start seeing not just disability payments as an entitlement, but the ability to cheat the system as an entitlement unto itself.

    That said, I’m a little conflicted about government transfer payments. On the one hand, yes, these people are leeching off the system and shouldn’t be able to do that. On the other hand, I’d rather the government’s money end up in the hands of a bunch of welfare cheats (where it can’t really do any harm) than stay in Washington, where it will be used to spy on us, blow up a bunch of people who don’t threaten us, and be used for social engineering and corporate welfare.

  3. This was an tangential remark that Peggy Noonan made in her WSJ editorial today. I think it’s an interesting concept that pertains to our discussion of the lack of shame “younger” people have regarding accepting/seeking government handouts.

    “There is pervasive confusion about what the American dream is. We seem to have redefined it to mean the acquisition of material things—a car, a house and a pool. That was not the meaning of the American dream a few generations ago. The definition then was that in this wonderful place called America, you can start out from nothing and become anything. It was aspirational. The limits of class and background wouldn’t and couldn’t keep you from becoming a person worthy of respect, even renown. If you wanted to turn that into houses and a pool, fine. But you didn’t have to. You could have a modest job like teacher and be the most respected woman in town. When we turned the American dream into a dream about materialism, we disheartened our young, who now are forced to achieve what we’ve defined as success in a straitened economy.”

    If I transformed this into a sports metaphor, it would be, “It’s whether you win or lose, not how you play the game.” Frankly, this is a very troubling thought. I also realize that this is not a uniform characterization of all “young” people and that there are many “older” people who live by this perverse motto as well. However, I think she has a point that this may be a trend that withe each succeeding age cohort becomes more pronounced. I take great pride and satisfaction in “playing the game” by the rules. In all my pursuits, I try to improve and do my best. I think winning is fun, but only in the context of the entire journey that gets me there. When I consider a win against an easily beatable “opponent” (whether that’s someone else, a personal goal, etc.), there’s not much satisfaction there. The win by itself is not very fulfilling unless it is accompanied by a true sense of real accomplishment. In a way, I feel sorry for those who simply want the trophy, but fail to experience or appreciate the path to get there. It’s not the winning or losing that defines us, but the efforts and methods we employ in trying to reach our goals as these reflect what kind of people we are.

    • I think your sport analogy is good. Winning is fun, but we’re finding out that so many people achieved that by cheating. That’s similar to skipping over the hard work of saving to buy a home.


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