Depend On It

The Heritage Foundation has released its 2010 Index of Dependence on Government, and you will be unsurprised to hear that American dependence on government programs continues to grow–especially in the health and welfare sectors.  Now, I will be the first to admit that, when confronted by a bevy of charts and words like “index” and “variables,” my eyes begin to glaze over and I think longingly of cool drinks and reality TV reruns.  But there is a reason to pay attention to what the number-crunching prognosticator-types are talking about.

For example–do you have (or are you working towards) a government pension?  Do you want it to still be there when you need it?  Because when budget crises reach a certain critical point (*cough* California *cough*), one of the first things that they look to cut are pensions and state salaries.

So what does this have to do with government spending on Hawaiians.  Because while a few hundred million is nothing to sneeze at, spending on Native Hawaiians seems minor in a year that included the massive stimulus bill.  But there’s more to the problem of creating a dependency on government programs than just the dollars and cents of it.  As the authors of the index explain:

To be clear: Every person will be dependent on others many times during his or her life, and there is nothing wrong with that. People spend most of their childhoods utterly dependent on their parents, and many people will rely on caregivers during their last years. Dependence on family, neighbors, fellow members of community groups, and—yes—local government is the normal, everyday stuff of life.

When people receive aid from someone in their social circle, they are given an opportunity to repay that aid someday in a similar way. Mutual aid is the glue that binds communities together; it gives strength to families and the greater civil society. Most Americans know instinctively that creating strong communities and families is a matter of caring for each other.

When the federal government provides aid, that aid also binds the dependent person to the aid giver. This aid, however, is anything but mutual. No one expects the dependent person one day to give similar aid to the federal government. And government aid certainly does not strengthen communities and families: If Americans have learned anything about the federal welfare system, it is how effectively it undermines family structure and hollows out communities.

Worse, dependence-creating programs quickly morph into political assets that policymakers all too readily embrace. Voters tend to support politicians and political parties that give them higher incomes or subsidies for the essentials of life; but no matter how well-meaning policymakers might have been when they created government aid programs like Medicare, unemployment insurance, and subsidized housing, these same programs quickly grow beyond their mission and turn into a mechanism that creates and sustains a never-ending cycle of dependence—and entitlement thinking.

Is there a clearer delineation of the problem inherent in depending on government to shore up the health of a community, be it racial, ethnic, or otherwise?  I’ve been worried for a long time about the slowly dissolving sense of ohana in the Islands, and I begin to wonder if this is part of the explanation for it.

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