Despite government shutdown, America's welfare state keeps growing

While the Tea Party taught us nothing, we can learn much from other countries about societal poverty. Photo: Associated Press

OCALA, Fla., October 17, 2013 — Now that Congress has reached a deal which allows the federal government to resume full operation, the root cause of conservative dismay should be discussed.

Many right-wing Republicans, in both the U.S. House and Senate, bolstered the two week-plus shutdown because they fear the rise of a welfare state. Such a fear is not unreasonable, even though forcing the government to close certainly was.

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Today, more Americans than ever receive some sort of government assistance. Much of this can genuinely be described as “handouts”. Welfare-to-work standards, a bipartisan gem from the Clinton Era, have been relaxed. Ostensibly unemployed individuals now receive benefits for years on end. 

Quite often, they make more on the dole than they would at an available job.  

None of this even touches on various state and local programs which serve as disincentives for innovation. Sadly, an untold number now make their living off of public subsidies.

All the while, working poor, working class, and lower-middle class taxpayers are too high-income for government assistance, yet not affluent enough to live decently in our cutthroat economy.

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Somehow, it doesn’t seem that the American Dream was supposed to turn out this way. 

Considering how well our nation’s non-working poor live — complete with free cellular phones and plastic benefit cards in lieu of food stamps — how do the impoverished in other countries measure up? 

One of the world’s fastest-growing economies can be found in India. The sprawling nation, home to more than one billion people, is well on its way to solid first-world status.

Nonetheless, its poor are frequently treated as something less than human. What on Earth is going on here?

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Yogesh Varhade leads the Ambedkar Centre for Justice and Peace, an organization devoted to ending India’s ages-old caste system. It is through this social structure that people are born into lifelong positions of impoverishment, comfort or extreme wealth.

He tells The Washington Times Communities that poverty’s Indian, as opposed to American, definition goes like this: “Both are the largest democracies in the east and west. One is an advanced, developed country while the other is a developing country.

“In both countries minorities are more locked up in poverty. In the USA, colour and outside immigrants play the major part in extreme poverty though America agrees that it is a land of immigrants.

“In India, its own people of the same colour have been pushed into extreme poverty and slavery in the real sense for the last 3000 years. In spite of protective laws, the psyche remains to hold these so called low-caste….in bondage and extreme poverty. The Hindu religious caste system created poverty and perpetuated it.”

While India’s case in undeniably radical, there is an existing social order in every society. How does America’s class system relate to India’s?

“Social order is fine but it should be economical and reversible so that the poor can become rich with hard work and they join the rich class,” Varhade says. “This is happening with African Americans in sports, music, etc.

“In India you are born Untouchable and even though you are successful, you are still of a low caste. It is not reversible. This is why the caste system needs to be broken.”

Very often, religion plays a role in certain aspects of American politics. What have Varhade’s experiences relating to India taught him about the separation between church and state?

He explains that “America keeps the religion close like Protestants as a majority and Catholics as a minority, but it does influence the voters and politicians to some degree indirectly.

“India is governed by caste. Nearly 70 % of top administrative positions are controlled by 4% Brahmins; the priestly caste. Also, 90% of newspapers and judiciary posts go to Brahmins in spite of laws in place for fairness and equality. 

“So though India is supposed to be secular, it is a de facto Hindu state. Separation of religion  and state indirectly plays a role to a small degree in US, whereas in India religion dominates openly in all walks of life.”

From Varhade’s perspective, what can the social traditions of India teach most Americans about life?

“The real lessons from India are the wisdom of yoga culture and more rational and scientific religions like Buddhism,” he remarks. “Half of Hollywood practices Zen Buddhism. As far as the social traditions from India are concerned, there is a show of peaceful co-existence, but this is not the reality.”

In America, we frequently take things for granted. We also have a skewed point of view about human relations. Our modern poor would be considered well off in India, and our affluent-to-wealthy lead an existence far beyond the dreams of Untouchables. 

Considering this, lefties and righties alike have some explaining to do. Can lavish handouts for longtime welfare recipients and the unemployed-by-choice be rationalized as looking out for the least among us?

Likewise, standing against public funds for the legitimately needy so that well-off folks can pay minimal taxes is downright cruel. Choose to accept it if one will, but not all government aid is badly spent.

Much is, though. Perhaps if conservative concerns on the matter were addressed from a moderate perspective, viable solutions would be found.

Such a suggestion might be too workable to work right now, unfortunately. As usual, what a shame.

Far-left? Far-right? Get realRead more from “The Conscience of a Realist” by Joseph F. Cotto 


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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