This rather lengthy essay clearly highlights the fact that the current Welfare System, as practiced in modern society, is in serious trouble. The main reason why is due to the almost total absence of human dignity, and a complete failure of Personal "reciprocity". Its thesis is that charity (welfare payments to the poor) springs from a basic human instinct. But that instinct is neither altruism nor a belief in equality. It is an instinctive expectation of reciprocity. In other words, we give to others in the instinctive expectation that we will get something back in return. We put resources into the common pot with the expectation that everyone else will do likewise.
But this only works well in very small and limited groups, because it's a personal thing that is tangible with everyone. That is why local religious charities are so successful, and government programs are riddled with inefficiency and waste.
In modern societies the personal expectation is often violated, with welfare recipients giving nothing back. Thus, it offends our basic expectation of reciprocity, and feels wrong. Consequently, the Leftist opposition to welfare reform is founded -- once again -- on a denial of basic human instincts, which are rarely understood.
For those who aren't anthropologists(I am a Physical Anthropologist), the concept of reciprocity is not something that one thinks about regularly. However, it is the primary instinctual behaviour of human interaction, and is studied almost exclusively, by anthropology students, when studying primitive, and advanced societies. In other words, it is the societal glue which cements humans together.
Plainly spoken, stature is enhanced by the 'gift giving' process. The more a person gives to others, the more his/her statue is enhanced within that society. They also expect something in return, just as the recipient subconsciously knows that he/she is expected to return that gift(reciprocate) in order to enhance his/her reputation. Not only is it practiced among humans, but apes, monkeys, and other more advanced creatures. It's the natural order of society, and it's structure.
But today's current welfare system completely bypasses the reciprocity process,.........with one destructive exception. Politicians instinctly recognize the import of the exchange process, and use welfare in order to enhance their own stature, and get reelected. Welfare recipients are expected to return the favour, with their votes. But that is only an abstraction, and does not enhance stature of the welfare recipient, because it is not conducted on a personal level. And that is why governmental welfare programs, as they stand, are destined to eventual failure, because they are not only inefficient, but do not promote self dignity of both parties involved in the process.
Note: This essay is rather long, and well worth the read, but I'm just going to highlight a short portion. I highly recommend you read the entire thing, because it is ground breaking, and tackles the 'give and take' process which is fundamental to human interactive society.
Is Equality Passé?
Homo reciprocans and the future of egalitarian politics.
Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis
A man ought to be a friend to his friends and repay gift with gift. People should meet smiles with smiles, and lies with treachery.
--The Edda, a thirteenth-century colection of Norse epic verse
Is equality passé? We think not. The welfare state is in trouble not because selfishness is rampant (it is not), but because many egalitarian programs no longer evoke, and sometimes now offend, deeply held notions of fairness--notions that encompass both reciprocity and generosity but that stop far short of unconditional altruism towards the less well-off. Recasting egalitarianism to tap these sentiments should be high on the agenda of those who worry about the human toll being taken by poverty, inequality, and insecurity in the United States and in the world.
The US public remains deeply committed to helping those in need. A 1991 ABC/Washington Post poll found that twice as many people were "willing to pay higher taxes" to "reduce poverty" as were opposed. In 1995, 61 percent expressed willingness to pay more taxes to "provide job training and public service jobs for people on welfare so that they can get off welfare." Almost three quarters of those surveyed by Time in 1991 agreed (more than half of them "completely") with the statement: "The government should guarantee every citizen enough to eat and a place to sleep."
Many also think, however, that policies to pursue these objectives are either ineffective or unfair. In a 1995 CBS/New York Times survey, for example, 89 percent supported a mandated work requirement for those on welfare. It is thus not surprising that egalitarian programs have been cut even in the face of increases in measured inequality of before-tax and -transfer income. For the most part voters have responded to the cuts with approval rather than resistance.
Egalitarians now defend their programs on moral and empirical grounds that many people, even among the less well-off, find uncompelling. In the face of a hostile public, some egalitarians have soured on what they consider to be a selfish electorate that identifies with materialistic middle-class values and is indifferent to the plight of the less fortunate.