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Why Do We Need a “Safety Net”?

One of the core principles of statists (i.e., people who look to government to take care of people) is the concept of the “safety net.” It entails using the government to provide assistance to people to ensure that no one falls off the “high wire” of life and hits the ground and dies of starvation, illness, or other such thing. Without a “safety net,” statists argue, people would be dying in the streets, alleys, and gutters of America.

A genuinely free society necessarily entails leaving everyone free to keep his own money and decide for himself what to do with it. Decisions on charity are 100 percent voluntary. No one is forced to care for anyone.

For statists, it is freedom that is the heart of the problem. They say that people can’t be trusted with freedom. They say that they will make the wrong choices. That’s why they are convinced that in a free society, there would be people dying in the streets from starvation and illness. They say that a free people would turn their backs on them and just let them die.

Thus, the “safety net.” The government will be there to ensure the survival and well-being of people who would be rejected by a free people.

“Compassion” based on force

In supporting a “safety net,” statists say that they are demonstrating how compassionate they are. But their compassion is reflected in a weird way — one that involves the use of force.

Keep in mind, after all, that when we refer to a “safety net,” we are not talking about people helping people on a voluntary basis. That’s what a free society is all about, the type of society that statists reject precisely because they say it doesn’t work.

With a “safety net,” in order to provide financial assistance to the poor and needy, the government must first secure the money to hand out to them. The only way that government gets its money is through taxation.

Taxation is based on force. If someone refuses to pay his taxes, the IRS comes after him with a vengeance with audits, liens, inflated assessments of the amount owed, garnishments, attachments, foreclosures, and harassment. If that doesn’t work to get the money, the Justice Department secures a criminal indictment, prosecutes the tax opposer, and gets a conviction, whereby a federal judge then sends the tax malefactor to jail and fines him as well.

There is nothing voluntary about taxation. Taxation is biased on force.

So, for statists to say that they are being compassionate in initiating a “safety net” is weird because their “compassion” is vicarious in nature. It turns on having the government forcibly taking money from a person and giving it to someone else.

Destroying freedom

Notice something else about the “safety net.” It destroys freedom. Freedom necessarily entails the right to say no when someone requests assistance. If people are “free” only to say yes, then there is no way that people in that society can genuinely be considered free.

Once the government is authorized to forcibly take money from people and give it to others, freedom is destroyed because it is denying a people the right to say no. It is forcing people to do the “right” thing rather than leaving the matter up to them.

Faith in freedom and free will

The fact is that a safety net is totally unnecessary. No one would be dying in the streets in a free society. That’s because a free society not only raises standards of living for everyone, especially those at the bottom of the economic ladder, we can always trust that there will be those in society who are willing to help those who need help.

We just need to recapture a faith in ourselves, in others, in freedom, and in God. A free people can be trusted to do the right thing. And people have the fundamental, God-given right to make that choice for themselves. After all, since God trusted man with free will, under what moral authority does government interfere with, denigrate, and destroy that great God-given gift?

The post Why Do We Need a “Safety Net”? appeared first on The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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About The Author

Jacob G. Hornberger

The Future of Freedom Foundation was founded in 1989 by FFF president Jacob Hornberger with the aim of establishing an educational foundation that would advance an uncompromising case for libertarianism in the context of both foreign and domestic policy. The mission of The Future of Freedom Foundation is to advance freedom by providing an uncompromising moral and economic case for individual liberty, free markets, private property, and limited government. Visit

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