Chris Clancy: Pop Tarts and Potato Chips

Chris Clancy
Chris Clancy


Before the emergence of the welfare state, some help was available for those in need – real need. It was provided voluntarily by charitable people and organizations. This was one of the many attributes of what we once fondly referred to as “civil society”.

Any such help was, quite rightly, described as a “gift”.

It was freely given and gratefully received.

Today however, a “gift” is the last word we would use to describe expenditure on “welfare”. For a “hard-core” of recipients it is neither freely given nor gratefully received.

And that’s putting it mildly.

Which brings to mind a movie I watched a few years ago called “Precious” – a story about a girl of that name.

Movie critic Roger Ebert began his review as follows:

“Precious has shut down. She avoids looking at people, she hardly ever speaks, she’s nearly illiterate. Inside her lives a great hurt, and also her child, conceived in a rape. She is fat. Her clothes are too tight. School is an ordeal of mocking cruelty. Home is worse.”

The movie is set in a run-down inner-city somewhere in the USA. The location doesn’t matter – it could be any inner-city in any developed country – the story would be much the same.

For me, the most memorable character was not Precious, but her mother, Mary. The actress who played her won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress – and deservedly so – she made the part her own and then absolutely nailed it.

For any outsider, Mary’s situation is desperate – or better still – hopeless.

But she wouldn’t see this. I doubt it would even enter her head. She’s a chronic welfare dependent – incapable of ever holding down a regular job – like so many others caught up in this nightmare lifestyle.

“Today, there is no serious effort to challenge welfare as a way of life … Too many citizens now believe that they are ‘entitled’ to monetary assistance from the government anytime they need it, and they expect it. … No one asks where the government gets the money to finance the welfare state. Is it morally right to do so? Is it authorized in the Constitution? Does it help anyone in the long run? Who suffers from the policy?” Ron Paul.

The answer to the first three questions is, “No”. The answer to the fourth is, “Everyone”.

Mary’s tragedy is that the world she inhabits was created for her, and millions like her, by the state.

Worse still, we can’t even say its creators were unaware of the dangers when the ball was set in motion – back in the 1930s:

“The lessons of history, confirmed by the evidence immediately before me, show conclusively that continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fibre. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit.” Franklin D. Roosevelt – 1935.

As time passed it became clear that the “lessons of history” had not been learned:

“During the ’70s and ’80s, Americans began to realize that providing unlimited assistance to the poor had its drawbacks; many people actually seemed to prefer a life of easy poverty to a life of hard work.” Bill Bonner.

If a highly intelligent group of people were set the task of dreaming up a better way of destroying ordinary people’s self-concepts and self-esteem, their characters and dignity — whilst at the same time dressing it up as the right thing to do — I doubt they could come up anything better than this.

Over time it evolved into something generational. Lifestyles and locations, based on welfare, began to form and solidify — to develop and grow.

Any attempt at cutting back on it would have been political suicide.

And so it continued — to the point where in November 2012 it was the only possible deciding factor in the re-election of President Obama – such is the extent to which a “welfare culture” had come to permeate American society.

And what a shocking waste it is for all those caught up in it.

Especially the young people.

No growth. No development. Day after day of more of the same — of doing nothing and going no-where.

Pop tarts and potato chips – fast food and fizzy drinks.

Of wasted hours watching mindless TV – playing useless video games — of getting up to mischief — or worse.

Just hanging around — putting in the time — messing about.

What a terrible loss of so much potential.

Chris Clancy is a Contributing Editor with The Moral Liberal. His essays and articles on economics and other things are widely published on the internet. Formerly he was employed for a number of years as associate professor of financial accounting at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in Wuhan City, Hubei Province. He then left China for two years during which he wrote a book about his time there – Cut Loose at 50 – a must-read for anyone thinking about living and working in China. He has now returned to China where he teaches economics with the prestigious Dipont organization.

 Email him at [email protected]

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