There was a time when government did not provide a safety net for people. Instead, we relied on ourselves, our neighbors, and our community. We did so by banding together and forming associations, clubs, guilds or fraternities. We’ve all seen the Mason Halls, the Elk’s Clubs. At one time these organizations provided insurance against unexpected events like sickness, old age or death. Members pledged to help one another knowing they could expect the same when they too fell on tough times.
Laborers in the same occupations formed self-governing guilds or fraternities. Individuals who joined paid membership dues, building a trust used to help each other in times of trouble. Members received benefits like sick pay, medical care, burial expenses, and survivor’s benefits. Some fraternities grew into national associations with hundreds of thousands of members. By 1920, nearly 30 percent of all adults belonged to fraternal societies.
Immigrants also formed associations, such as the National Slovak Society. and the Hebrew Immigrants Aid Society. African Americans organized fraternal orders similar to the Elks. In 1918 its estimated that more than 275,000 blacks belonged to over 4000 associations in Chicago alone.
An interesting aspect of of these associations is how they dealt with the problem of people trying to take advantage of the system. Today its not unusual to hear about massive fraud and abuse of welfare programs. To add insult to injury, the government is not held accountable ,but merely give us lip service by promising to stop the problem. Funny how it never does stop.
Fraternal associations on the other hand often emphasized a code of ethics, enforcing a moral discipline affecting personal behavior. Fellowship and solidarity discouraged members from claiming benefits without good cause. They adopted rules to ensure adherence to them. For example a member could be denied benefits because of malingering, poor choices or immoral conduct. Organizations could require members to provide a doctor’s note in order to claim sickness benefits. Other organizations contracted with a “lodge doctor,” to provide medical care to all its members for a fixed price.
Charitable institutions also play an important role in civil society. Critics often state “If you abolish welfare children and the elderly will starve or die.” Nothing could be further form the truth. People have a natural desire to help the less fortunate. We form groups ranging from local soup kitchens and church charity bazaars to national organizations like the United Way, the Salvation Army and Doctors without Borders. Americans gave over 300 million dollars to charity to help out Hurricane Katrina victims. We are a caring people. We don’t want to see people go hungry or live in poverty.
In addition to more formal associations people hold socials gathered for drinking, eating and dancing. These socials were once used for advice or to help newlyweds start a new life. We still hold them today for families who need extra financial help with someone who is ill or perhaps lost their home due to fire. Known as Keh; Korean Americans get together once a month for dinner, socializing, advice, and the contribution of money to a common pot to be given each month to one participant.
Government safety nets harm all of society in many ways. Government programs have an incentive to keep people impoverished. When we let government take over we are trapping people in poverty and making it difficult for them to become independent, self sufficient and prosper. We take their pride, their self respect and dignity away. The welfare system encourages poor life choices such as unwed motherhood or drug addiction.
Society is harmed by welfare in other ways too. We begin to think if government is supposed to feed the poor, then charities are no longer needed. It discourages charitable giving and life becomes less fulfilling and more self centered. In the end civil society is replaced by the heartless nanny state.
If we truly want to end hunger and poverty, we need to see the solution is not government subsidies and welfare, but rather increasing and spreading wealth. A free market economy eases and even eliminates poverty. Capitalism is responsible for lifting more people out of poverty than any other system in the history of the world.