In economy, Work Series on November 2, 2009 at 2:19 am

My boss on welfare recipients:  “They should feel ashamed.  Shame is the best motivating factor.”

Getting a ride home from my boss  always leaves me with an insightful, if not enlightened or shocked impression.  Regardless of his often radical ideas, he brought up an interesting topic: Is shame a motivating factor?  My boss thinks so.

Apparently, his wife had witnessed a welfare member pull out a EBT card (now these “credit cards” replace the traditional food stamps) to buy steaks and expensive ice cream and groceries.   That scene threw out the notion that welfare people struggle due to their economic circumstances.

Disapprovingly, he said that the EBT cards were created to prevent others from knowing who was on welfare and who wasn’t and to prevent people from feeling ashamed about their welfare situation.   Even kids in school have similar cards for reduced meals so that other kids won’t pick on them.   At first, I thought that his view was a little harsh.   Struggling people shouldn’t be discriminated against.   Besides, my mother pointed out that EBT cards save paper and money to print.

However, after reading in the Star Bulletin that Costco is now accepting food stamps and that they are getting a flood of applicants, it begs the question: How could these people on welfare afford the 50 dollar membership fee?  And afford expensive products?    And, as my coworker said, buy nice fancy cars and bags?  And more importantly, does it matter?  Who is to say who controls how you spend your assets?

I don’t doubt that there are lazy welfare recipients.  However, I don’t doubt that there are also sneaky welfare recipients; those that get cutbacks from the government by filing even in their tax statements if they get under the table money for certain kinds of work (i.e. taxi drivers).  I also don’t doubt that there are honest people just trying to make a living.

So, is shame a motivating factor?  It can be.  In what form will it come? In these hard times, people are getting creative.  Does a nice bag and car indicate fruits of our labor? Not necessarily the conventional break your back kind.  But  should free riders be punished for taking advantage of a good opportunity given by government?  Darwin would probably say no.

So who’s at fault for our broken system?  We are all just trying to make it work.

Obsolete When All Are Employed


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