In yet another case of a young woman drawing the ire of conservatives, Amanda Clayton, a welfare recipient, recently won big playing the Michigan state lottery. The outrage didn’t come because someone receiving government aid had the disposable income for gambling, which is part of the larger issue, and which I’ll address below. Instead, the frustration was due to her continued receipt of SNAP benefits, or food stamps. She has since been cut off, but that did little to assuage Republican Dave Agema, a Michigan state representative, from holding Clayton up as an example of the “entitlement attitude.”
The argument is that someone who wins a million bucks playing the lottery should have no need for food stamps and voluntarily decline them, on principle. No doubt, this would be the honorable, upstanding choice. But someone who accepts the “free” money is simply taking advantage of the entitlement system, according to welfare opponents.
However, I say good for her! At first this might seem counter to Libertarian principles, since welfare is a hallmark of the nanny state so reviled by those desiring a free society. But on closer examination, there are several points to consider before making a knee-jerk reaction.
First, it’s not as if she personally took the money from those who earned it; the state did. So if anyone (or thing) is to be blamed, it is the state and its functionaries, first and foremost. Clayton was merely responding to the incentives in place, and, as far as anyone knows, she followed the law.
Second, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that if Clayton had refused the food stamps, Michigan taxpayers would get little refund checks. The money for her $200 a month had already been appropriated (or expropriated, if you prefer). The funds merely would have ended up in the hands of another agency. Better she get the money for food than it end up buying more guns for the state, paying some bureaucrat to harass a business, or having it squandered in any of the innumerable ways that governments waste money.
Third, she won $1,000,000, but received only about $500,000 of it; the rest went to the government at various levels. In a way, you might say she was just attempting to recoup her winnings. But even if she took the food stamps for the rest of her life, she’d never get all her money back. In fact, at $200 a month it would take over two hundred years before she’d break even.
Just like the fact that almost half of Americans pay no income taxes, and similar to the misplaced anger regarding immigration, conservatives are failing to see the state as the true source of the problem. Holding Ms. Clayton up as the problem does nothing to address the larger issue, which is the fact that we have a welfare state to begin with. This never would have been a problem if individuals were left free from government interference.
In a free society Clayton would be responsible for her own food, and would have to absorb the costs of her gambling as well. If she were unable to pay for her groceries then friends, family, a church or other organization could certainly lend aid.