Machan’s Archives: Did ’96 Bill Force People to Work?
Tibor R. Machan
As The New York Times would put it, when in 1996 “President Bill Clinton delivered on his pledge to ‘end welfare as we know it’…he signed into law a bill forcing recipients to work and imposing a five-year limit on cash assistance.” Back then this supposedly cruel deed was one “Hillary Rodham Clinton supported.” The Times says that “some accused the Clintons of throwing vulnerable families to the winds in pursuit of centrist votes as Mr. Clinton headed into the final stages of his re-election campaign.”
Now just consider the way The Times words all this. By ending parts of the welfare state, the bill amounted to “forcing recipients to work, etc.” That is like claiming that when one no longer provides support to certain people who become accustomed to getting it, one is “forcing them to fend for themselves.” In fact, of course, it was the government that was forcing all those it taxes to support the recipients in the first place and with the bill in 1996 it finally lessened the load on them. Taxation is what amounts to deploying force against people. Welfare is a form of coercive support. But support should never be coerced but provided only voluntarily by fellow citizens to those who are in need of it.
But for The New York Times–and this is in a news report, not an editorial opinion–withdrawing some of this forced transfer counts as forcing people to work! But nothing forces anyone to work other than the fact that one needs to earn a living, needs to feed and clothe oneself. It is, to put it bluntly, reality that applies the force. It wasn’t Bill Clinton, Congress, or the supportive First Lady.
Here is a good case of journalistic bias which is disguised within a so called straight news report. By wording the “report” as The New York Times did, the newspaper’s editors and writers tried to make it appear that those who aimed for the contraction of the massive welfare system were perpetrating some kind of oppressive action against welfare recipients. But just isn’t so.
In the welfare system it is politicians and bureaucrats who are forcibly confiscating funds from citizens, by means of taxation, in behalf of prospective welfare recipients. It may well be true that these welfare recipients are in need of help but what they ought to do is solicit the help, not take part in extorting it, from other people. It is not charity or generosity when government agents zoom down upon us every year on April 15th or so, and forcibly take from us what is no one else’s resource but our own. If we decide to send some of these resources to needy people, that’s charity, that’s generosity, that’s kindness. But if Congress and the President of the United States hand over the loot they have taken, to welfare recipients, that’s something entirely different–forcible confiscation and redistribution, that what.
Some people tend to think of Robin Hood when they consider the nature of the welfare state but they are mistaken in doing so. What Robin Hood did was to retake resources confiscated in taxes from those who took them and return these to the victims. That part of the legend is rarely acknowledged.
Thus, the government is anything but akin to Robin Hood, quite the opposite–it is the culprit or villain in the legend.
This is something The New York Times might have reported instead of insisting on making it appear that in 1996 Bill Clinton & Co., including the supportive Hillary Rodham Clinton, set out to oppress welfare recipients. Granted, the entire policy may have been a scam to gain Bill Clinton support from American voters who believed that the welfare state needs to be cut back, perhaps even abolished. Given Mrs. Clinton’s belief in “a commander-in-chief of the economy,” I have little doubt that she has no principled objection to such a state and is probably bent on expanding it now that she believes most Americans no longer find much wrong with coercive wealth redistribution.
What The Times ought to have done is gone on record, on the editorial page, arguing that such coercive redistribution is just fine so far as it is concerned, not try to hoodwink readers in a news story into thinking that the force is applied by those who want to cut back welfare rather than those who support it.