Back to Welfare (or How To Fix Public Education)


Ah, the myth of the man-month, all over again. “The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering” by Fred Brooks, [“..First published in 1975 (ISBN 0-201-00650-2), reprinted in 1982, and republished in an anniversary edition with four extra chapters in 1995 (ISBN 0-201-83595-9), including a reprint of the essay “No Silver Bullet” with commentary by the author.]”–Wikipedia.

Brooks’ Law has been around a long time. However, Brooks’ book is jovially described as the ‘Project Managers Bible’, oft-quoted, but almost never followed. There are good reasons for not following the rational approach described therein—for one thing, it concerns group efforts in a business environment. Ask anyone with experience in such things and they will tell you, “Sure—in group efforts (or team efforts) there is nothing rational involved—it’s all about their feelings and relationships (and their hierarchy, corporate-wise).”


Like office staff during a prolonged period of ‘downsizing’, members of a ‘group effort’ assume a herd aspect—everyone looks to everyone else, ignoring their specific efforts while focused on the much more important mob-moods of the group as a whole. But the vagaries of corporate dysfunction and corporate survival are not my theme for today.

Today, in examining the exhaustive world of Insolvency, I’m going over ground that’s been gone over before—but is very worthwhile in reviewing and reminding us of key facts. Part of the Poverty problem is the enormous effort required to be poor and alive at the same time.

Let’s enumerate. Point One—if you cannot afford a car, you are forced to either walk or take mass transit, often for long distances, on a daily basis. This applies not just to the commute to a job (yes, many poor people have jobs—they’re just not good jobs) but to shopping, medical emergencies, parent-teacher meetings, etc. Commuting is, however, where it hurts the most—the likelihood of being late is magnified by the number of factors outside of the control of the worker—missed busses and trains, inclement weather, and heavy traffic on a street that must be walked across, etc. And this results in either docked pay or diminished perceived value as an employee—or both. In short, the lack of a car can be costly in effort, man-hours, reputation, and straight-up paychecks. And it makes certain destinations virtually unreachable.

Point Two—if you cannot afford a house, you must find a friend to let you stay on the couch—or find a homeless shelter. Either way, you are subject to all the disadvantages of not owning a home—you cannot accumulate appliances, furniture, or foodstuffs; you cannot give a home phone number or mailing address; and you can end up spending too much time exposed to the elements—which can lead to…

Point Three—if you cannot afford a doctor and you are sick or injured, you must spend a minimum of one whole working day at an Emergency Room—and then get less-than-competent health care at the end of it. Infection is more likely to find people who have no Band-Aids or Purell.

I could go on to Point Thirty-Three with this stuff—but I’ll spare you the rest—in truth, it makes me very tired to think about Poverty. So many people—so much injustice and unfairness—thinking how it would affect me, in my disabled state, if I were all alone, I can’t help but see it as a sort of hell on earth.

I can only surmise that the many angry voices on the Internet, that despise the poor and the hungry, are the voices of like-minded folk—with the important difference that they fear that hell-on-earth for themselves and, rather than empathize with today’s victims, simply wish to distance themselves from such a horrible condition. That fear makes them angry and such people want to insist that the monster could never catch them—thus their characterization of the poor as ‘lazy’ and ‘un-enterprising’. But they are no safer for all their hexing.

None of us are safe. That is why it makes a tremendous amount of sense to ameliorate the horrors of Poverty. It could happen to me tomorrow—then wouldn’t I feel like an idiot for trying to stop government aid to my new demographic? We should be making Poverty an embarrassment rather than a frightening wasteland. We should be making Poverty so easy to bear that the only damage it inflicts is the wounding of one’s pride.


But please understand me—I’m not saying we should taunt the poor—that isn’t it at all. No, I’m saying that poverty should hold no fear for our lives, for our health, for our daily bread. I’m saying it should be easy to be poor, easy to care for our children when we’re poor, and easy to get medical treatment for us and our families when we’re poor. We should be tempted by Poverty—it should call to us when we are down and make us think, “O, forget all this trouble—I’m just gonna give up.”

Without such a safety-net system of support, none of us are safe, none of us can rest easy—the poor suffer, and the rest of us worry about becoming poor. It’s too primitive this way—and what is a civilization anyway, if not a collective effort to improve quality of life for everyone?

I remember the ‘Welfare state’ of yesteryear—how it became a black hole of government expense. But that was not caused by an army of ‘lazy good-for-nothings’, people who chose welfare over honest labor—even in those easier times, no one went on Welfare just to avoid working. No, the true cause of the arterial spurt of cash that Welfare became was corruption, not overuse.

Plus, no one thought Welfare through—it was an attempt to end the poverty of inner cities and depressed rural areas—when someone has lived hand to mouth for a lifetime—and then is handed money—that person doesn’t have any natural propensity for changing into someone new—no. When Welfare was instituted, there was no concomitant effort to guide those people towards a different way of life—so when they got money, they spent it as they always had. The idea that they would simply march straight into a bank and start a savings account, try to use some of the money to get a better education, and generally start doing things the way prosperous people were used to doing them—that is one big assumption.

It showed our ignorance of social dynamics and, more importantly, it revealed government’s (any government’s) weak side: envisioning what will happen tomorrow. Mixed up in there, too, was a lot of prejudice, condescension, and miserliness. And the Misers ultimately won out. The media painted it thus: calls for rooting out the corruption and illicit scams in the Welfare system were followed by pronouncements that it couldn’t be fixed, we should just trash the whole thing. And that’s what we did.


A few years later, NYC (and many other places) noticed a new problem in the streets—homelessness. Coincidence? You tell me. Then we had years of debate over how to solve the homeless crisis. No one suggested anything as old and shabby as Welfare—we’d already tried it, hadn’t we? Well, not really.

Let me say this—if we tasked our armed forces with a war on domestic poverty, we wouldn’t be that far off. As I see it, much of the perpetuation of poverty is due to businesspersons that create an economic niche within the plight of the poor—slumlords, high-interest-loans, overpriced merchandise targeting customers who can’t afford the extra time and the extra distance travelled to reach an honorable establishment. It is a microcosm of how most of the world is eternally being ripped off by the rich—but I’m going to stay on task here—back to Poverty.

So there are businesses which prey on the poor—but there are the gangs, too. Modern gangs control many under-served, depressed areas—and our world’s largest penal system contains an inexhaustible supply of replacements for all the gangs. Between street gangs, our prison system, and organized crime, huge swathes of the ‘land of the free’ are so ‘law of the jungle’ that they actually could be perceived as foreign countries—thus my suggestion that the military take point on this issue.

If our armed forces can get rid of the thieves and tin-pot dictators of the Mid-East, rebuild the infrastructure, train and educate the native populations to the point where they can govern themselves—why can’t we do that at home? I say bring back Welfare, and enforce it with heavy armament! Then, when people stop starving and freezing, perhaps, the public education system can be fixed.


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