“In the United States of America, you have the right to be an idiot, and you have the right to be lazy. But the bondage of poverty and ignorance is yours to bear.” The words of an old Baptist preacher carry a lot of truth, especially in a time when people have come to believe that the nameless and faceless taxpayer can subsidize their living.
Growing up in rural Arkansas, one often hears discussion of “The American Dream,” and depending upon who you ask, the definition might sound a little different. The best I can come up with is this: “The American Dream is the opportunity of upward mobility and the right of self-determination. In this Dream, I am the only one responsible for the quality and the direction of my own future.” These sentiments are echoed in the Preamble to the most recent Republican Party Platform which states that great outcomes can result “through our own exercise of individual responsibility and initiative…independent of government.”
While members of the socialist Left might argue that a college education should be free for all, my peers have started to suffer from a serious lack of incentive. When I see people leave with the same grades and degrees as me without putting in the work, I’m deeply offended. Not only does this degrade the quality of my education, but it also teaches my generation that work is unnecessary and unprofitable – at least compared to what the federal government can give you.
As someone still in the college environment, I know better than anyone the costs of higher education and the burden that high price tags can be on families who seek professional degrees. But I also understand the dignity of working and studying my way through school. My education is mine because I paid for it, with my own dollars, tears, and hours. I am a first-generation college student. My father left high school and left his family farm to join the United States Army to ensure a better life for his children. My mother left high school to become a cosmetologist. Both of my parents instilled in me the value of the American Dream and the hard work it takes to achieve it because they knew from a young age what it meant to work towards individual success. My father’s sacrifices for our country and my mother’s sacrifices for our family are what inspire me to be the person I am today.
A large percentage of the federal budget each year is spent on social welfare programs. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, fiscal year 2019 saw 23 percent of federal expenditures on Social Security, 25 percent on health insurance subsidies like Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, and the Affordable Care Act marketplace, and 8 percent on safety net programs for income aid. Unfortunately, those programs which were meant to supplement lost income for the impoverished are often abused, leaving the national debt to increase and those in need to go without.
Sadly, we have entered a time in which the government mechanism incentivizes the refusal to work. Looking at more recent headlines, Arkansas small business owners have railed against the increases in pandemic unemployment assistance. “We can’t get anybody to work for us,” they say, always pointing out that an individual can earn more income on unemployment than what any employer can afford to provide.
If I drive down any street in Conway, I can see business after business with signs posted, saying, “We’re hiring,” and some of the most successful restaurants in Central Arkansas have closed for a lack of servers. When I graduate with my degree, will there be any hiring signs left? Or will all the doors be closed to me? Without workers, our small businesses close. Our tax revenues fall short. Our jobless rates skyrockets, and our economy falters. This disincentive has become a silent pandemic all its own, gradually killing my generation’s future and degrading the vision of the Founders.
Aside from policy issues, the Founders understood the fallibility of the human condition, and therefore, the fallibility of the governments created by men. Knowing this, the citizen- more profoundly, the Republican- must be bound to those God-authored Constitutional principles of justice and truth. With the power to determine our future, our government, and the timbre of our society, we also bear the burden of that power. As we share in the triumph of its successes, so too are we responsible for its failings. The freedom of the individual is a firm foundation upon which to stand, but at the same time, it is a hard stone upon which to fall.