Up from Dependency

For too long, the black community has been enslaved by the destructive dependency mind set.

There exists an absurd belief, held almost dogmatically, that if we are to empower individuals we must first make them dependent upon the government. This flawed philosophy is perpetuated not only by the so-called black leadership, and those dependent on the government for food and clothing, but also by average citizens with stable employment.

The problem with state- and federally funded welfare programs, however, is that rather than solving long-term problems by enhancing social mobility, they serve as nothing more than a short-term band-aid.

The current welfare system causes the beneficiaries to become dependent upon the government. It utterly fails to economically empower individuals into financial independence. Marxists around the world have tragically demonstrated that an economy based on government benevolence cannot create wealth or freedom.

I witnessed many examples of the vicious cycle of dependency during my childhood. Being the eldest of six children of a single mother, our family frequented slums, ghettoes, and homeless shelters until finally “settling” into a poor neighborhood in Charlotte, North Carolina. As we traveled across Michigan, Missouri, and North Carolina, I was exposed to many people who made their living by exploiting government programs. This ranged from selling food stamps to bearing children for the sake of claiming them as dependents. Tax time was actually quite profitable for my mother, despite the fact that she rarely worked.

I remember watching people devise ways to scam SSI, Medicare, AFDC, and other welfare programs. I recall one broken man, sleeping on a dark clay path, who dreamed of being approved for SSI despite having been turned down for the past three years. He was fully aware that if he succeeded in gaining SSI approval, the government would pay him for the past three years in one lump sum. Eventually he succeeded in getting money from SSI and he promptly wasted it. He was on the clay path again three months later.

Simply throwing money at people does not solve their problems. Coming from an incredibly poor background, I learned this firsthand. Apparently, black leaders do not seem to realize this, as they are typically too busy trying to buy votes to actually pay attention to economic realities.

If, however, the government were to eliminate many of the current welfare programs and instead focus on educating the poverty-stricken within our community, we might make real long-term gains. It would undoubtedly be a bit rough at first, but ultimately our people would be able to achieve economic independence.

Government welfare and misguided minimum wage laws—supported by a certain Illinois senator—will not accomplish this goal. We must drop the dependency mind set that holds us back and realize that it is not the government’s job to take care of us.

What we need is a fundamental paradigm shift about the role of government in our lives. This shift occurred for me at the age of 12, when I realized that the path of dependency many poor blacks were following simply was not working. I chose to embrace a different mind set, one of responsibility and self-help, and that has made all the difference.

Nick Johnson (njohonson@heartland.org) is the new media specialist at The Heartland Institute.