America Before the Entitlement State

Yaron Brook and Don Watkins
Forbes.com
11/18/2011

Reacting to calls for cuts in entitlement programs, House Democrat Henry Waxman fumed: “The Republicans want us to repeal the twentieth century.” Sound bites don’t get much better than that. After all, the world before the twentieth century–before the New Deal, the New Frontier, the Great Society–was a dark, dangerous, heartless place where hordes of Americans starved in the streets.

Except it wasn’t and they didn’t. The actual history of America shows something else entirely: picking your neighbors’ pockets is not a necessity of survival. Before America’s entitlement state, free individuals planned for and coped with tough times, taking responsibility for their own lives…

…Only when other options were exhausted would people turn to formal private charities. By the mid-nineteenth century, groups aiming to help widows, orphans, and other “worthy poor” were launched in every major city in America. There were some government welfare programs, but they were minuscule compared to private efforts.

In 1910, in New York State, for instance, 151 private benevolent groups provided care for children, and 216 provided care for adults or adults with children. If you were homeless in Chicago in 1933, for example, you could find shelter at one of the city’s 614 YMCAs, or one of its 89 Salvation Army barracks, or one of its 75 Goodwill Industries dormitories…

Read the entire article at Forbes.com

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