What does welfare reform, tinkering with Social Security, federal funding for faith-based organizations and the Internet have in common?
They all exhibit evidence of a general lessening of dependence on government “safety-nets.”
The recent proposal by Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush to allow workers to invest a portion of their Social Security in the stock market was initially received with a mixture of excitement and dismay. Initially, the other major presidential candidate, Al Gore, proclaimed the idea as “risky” and vowed to have nothing to do with it.
Recently, as opinion polls indicated that Americans were not following his lead, Mr. Gore reversed course and proposed his own version of a program that would give a government-funded incentive to workers interested in stock market investing.
The importance of this situation is not whether Social Security funds should be invested in the stock market. In my view, the more important consideration is that, for the first time since the 1930s, the American people are not insisting that the government guarantee a fixed Social Security retirement benefit. They seem willing to at least consider risking a portion of their retirement fortune to the whims of the stock market.
Similarly, when welfare reform was passed and limitations were placed on the length one could linger on the public dole, Americans were saying that the government no longer had responsibility for assuring everyone’s indefinite, leisurely passage through life. A limited safety net replaced the old unlimited net which had been around for decades.
GOVERNMENT: MORE PROBLEMS THAN SOLUTIONS
Recognition of the failure of government to solve social ills in our society has caused both political parties to resort to proposing that religious organizations step into the breach. Only time will tell whether this idea is good for the religious organizations or for society, but nonetheless, it is indicative of a passing of the torch from government safety-netting to giving the community back to the community.
Part of this shift away from reliance on government is based on declining trust in government. Some writers date the shift to the Watergate incident. Others cite our failure to win either the Korean or Vietnam wars as a wake-up call that our government is not infallible. In more recent times, the Internet is believed to be empowering individuals to the detriment of government control.
INFORMATION ACCESS BREAKING SHACKLES
Alas, how does the Internet fit into this picture? Lower demands for government safety-nets is a result of the departing of the depression generation and the empowering of the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers. These folks have never experienced the devastation of a Great Depression-type event and have cut their teeth on increased self-reliance brought about by downsizing and the information explosion caused by the Internet.
Employers have declared themselves free of any moral obligation to provide job security to employees. Once the tidal wave of downsizing crashed ashore, the relationship between employees and their employers was changed forever. The ranks of middle management have been decimated and workers are now expected to take more unsupervised initiative and responsibility for their work.
The Internet is a fountain of information, and information is power. That power is available for as little as twenty bucks a month. With a sense of increased power comes a lowered reliance on others, including government. This outcome was predicted by management guru and author Dr. Peter Drucker in his books written in the 1960s and 1970s.
To survive and prosper in these changing times, we must all be sensitive to shifts in paradigms. I think it’s a safe bet to assume the trend toward more self-reliance and diminished government-reliance is here to stay.
Ah, what a beautiful thought for a libertarian such as I.
THOUGHT FOR THE MOMENT
For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “if a man will not work, he shall not eat.”
— 2 THESSALONIANS 3:10
Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is email@example.com.