Fallacies and Dangers of Public Welfare

Prophet Statesmen, Albert E. Bowen

Two or three stock assertions are commonly put forward in justification by those disinclined to relinquish public benefits in favor of the Church Welfare Plan. They are: (1) We reclaimed the country and have paid our taxes all through the years and are entitled to be cared for. (2) The world owes us a living. (3) Others are getting it, why shouldn’t we?

In answer to number (1) the following is condensed from a statement made by Elder Stephen L Richards:

Taxes are paid for the benefits derived out of government and are consumed year by year as we go. They do not build up surpluses, but are commonly in deficit, hence no fund for old age benefit payments have been accumulated. Depending on the efficiency of administration taxpayers have had value received as they go. They have been used for common public purposes enjoyed by all, not a class or group, as in providing police protection, schools, fire protection, court houses, hospitals, building and maintenance of roads, streets and walks, water systems, parks, weed control and the like. It is a safe assumption that recipients of old age benefits have not contributed in taxes more than their fair share of the tax burden. Indeed, it is more likely that they have received proportionately more than they have paid in.

So far as the sales tax is concerned the contribution to that fund by beneficiaries of the old age benefits are so infinitesimal by comparison as not to take them out of the realm of charitable gifts, leaving no warrant for the assumption that they are pensioners and the beneficiaries of any funds to which they have been contributors. Besides only a part of the benefit payment comes out of the sales tax fund, the rest is a pure gratuity.

(2) With respect to the man who says the world, or the country, owes him a living, it might be sufficient to ask him, why? What for? What has any of us ever done to put the world or the country in our debt? . . . Here are the words of President Joseph F. Smith relative to the matter:

It is a bad thing for men to think the world owes them a living . . . . I don’t refer to the cripple, or those who are enfeebled by age . . . there is a need for them to live, and there is a necessity for us to assist such, but there is no great need in this world for men and women who are able to work and will not work. (CR- 4/98)

(3) There is no greater peril to the integrity and manhood of a human soul than the doctrine that he should get his out of the public treasury because others in like circumstances are getting theirs. It displays a lamentable failure of understanding of the elements of patriotism. It is a debasing concept. It means that if others through deception or fraudulent pretense succeed in qualifying for public charity by circumvention of the law, then the advocate of that doctrine may do likewise. There is hardly any depth to which that kind of doctrine would not lead. On that principle the hold-up could justify bank robbery; the thief purse snatching. (CWP-81-2)

Family Allowances. Closely akin to statutory enactments which make people eligible for support out of public funds, without obligation to do anything for themselves regardless of the availability of work and their ability to do it, if they haven’t property in excess of a stated amount and have reached a prescribed age, are statutes providing what are commonly called Family Allowances. These are operative in some outlying areas of the Church and bid fair to being much more widely adopted under pressure of a carefully nursed agitation. They illustrate the extremes to which governmental assumption of responsibility may go.

Such laws usually conform to a more or less standard pattern and provide for the payment of a stipulated sum monthly for the support of all children up to a given age—often 16 to 18. The payments go to all children whose parents register under the Act regardless of the financial position of their parents. The income tax is relied upon to drain back into the treasury from those who do not need the aid by offsetting family allowance payments against deductions for dependent children from income in tax returns.

The payments generally are made to the mother, but are to be used solely for the children for whose benefit they are intended. The state assumes jurisdiction to see that they are so used. If the mother does not so use them then the governmental agency will step in and divert the check from the mother to some person outside the family, likely a social worker, who will see that it is spent for the children. Thus the state is permitted to intervene between parents and children in the most intimate and sacred of family relations—the duty of parents for the care of their children and the duty of the children to conform to parental authority and abide the government of family discipline. The father usually under the administration of such laws is entirely excluded. The check does not come to him. He has nothing to do with allocating its benefits to the children. This idea, no doubt, stems from the European origin of the plan where so much of the benefits went to unmarried mothers. To say the least it is no deterrent to illegitimacy.

Just how the nice distinction is to be made to determine whether in a family comprising some members over the statutory age and some under, the allowance money is so to be spent that all the benefits accrue to those under that age is not easy to see. This much is certain. Such an Act has all the potentialities for destroying family discipline and breaking down the authoritative position of the father as the head of the household. It transfers the dependence of children from the parents to the state; it teaches children to look beyond the parents to the state. It teaches them that they have state-conferred rights which they may demand from parents and teaches them to scrutinize the acts of parents with a view to asserting those rights. It opens the family circle to the entrance of a state inquisitor who may interrogate children about the doings of their parents and invite them to be complainants and informers against parents. Inherent in the scheme is the disintegration of family unity, order, discipline, reverence and respect. From Germany’s experience, we know what that could mean. It is competent, of course, for anyone who wants that kind of meddling in his home to have it, but one can scarcely help recalling Pope’s peasant who having been served the rich man’s feast and finding the consequences complained:

And please, your honor, quoth the peasant
This same dessert is not so pleasant
Give me back my hollow tree
A crust of bread and liberty.

(CWP-90-1)

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Source: Albert E. Bowen. The Church Welfare Plan, p. 81-2, 90-1. 1946. Albert E. Bowen (1875–1953) served as a mem­ber of the Quo­rum of the Twelve Apos­tles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Prior to his call to full time church ser­vice he taught at Brigham Young Col­lege, then grad­u­ated with hon­ors from Uni­ver­sity of Chicago law school, prac­ticed law in Logan, Utah, and later Salt Lake City, where he also became involved in many impor­tant busi­ness ven­tures such as the Utah Con­struc­tion Com­pany, the Amer­i­can Sav­ings and Loan Asso­ci­a­tion, and the Utah Fuel Company.