Blog ››› ››› MARCUS FELDMAN
Yesterday Heritage released an "Index of Dependence on Government" report. Fox and others in the conservative media trumpeted the report. But even a quick look at Heritage's report reveals its true intent: a thinly-veiled attempt to discredit important government programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
The report suggests that times were better when, rather than relying on a government-provided social safety net, Americans of limited means had to hope for "support provided by families, churches, and other civil society groups." Here is what the Heritage report has to say about Social Security and similar government programs:
Financial help for those in need has also changed profoundly. Local, community-based charitable organizations once provided the majority of aid, resulting in a personal relationship between those who received assistance and those who provided it. Today, Social Security and other government programs provide much or all of the income to low-income and indigent households. Nearly all the financial support that was once provided to temporarily unemployed workers by unions, mutual-aid societies, and local charities is now provided by federal income, food, and health programs.
This shift from local, community-based, mutual-aid assistance to anonymous government payments has clearly altered the relationship between the receiver and the provider of the assistance. In the past, a person in need depended on help from people and organizations in his or her local community. The community representatives were generally aware of the person's needs and tailored the assistance to meet those needs within the community's budgetary constraints. Today, housing and other needs are addressed by government employees to whom the person in need is a complete stranger, and who have few or no ties to the community in which the needy person lives.
Both cases of aid involve a dependent relationship. However, support provided by families, churches, and other civil society groups aims to restore a person to full flourishing and personal responsibility, and, ultimately, to be able to aid another person in turn. This kind of reciprocal expectation does not characterize the dependent relationship with the political system.
And it's nostalgia for the good old days is just as strong when it comes to Medicare. The report says: "Regardless of whether the medical and financial results are better today, the relationship between the people who receive health care assistance and those who pay for it has changed fundamentally. Few would dispute that this change has affected the total cost of health care, and the relationships among patients, doctors, and hospitals, negatively."
But how good were the good old days? Poverty was far more prevalent among the elderly back in those days. With the implementation of Social Security and subsequent increases in Social Security expenditures, elderly poverty experienced precipitous declines, falling from 35 percent in 1960 to 10 percent in 1995. In other words, back in the good old days, more than a third of the elderly were poor. Now it's down to less than one in 10.