Charles Murray was honored by the AEI last week, and gave a talk on happiness in the context of modern America. His talk hit on an interesting paradox of welfare programs aimed at the poor, that it negatively affects the satisfaction of life for those who are most likely to gain life satisfaction via non-vocational activities. Most liberals see faith as authoritarian delusions, and family and community needs as the responsibility of the government. That's not horrible if you have an great job and are good at it because you can bask in the status from that job, but if you are merely a hard working mensch your path to a meaningful and satisfying life is diminished:
To become a source of deep satisfaction, a human activity has to meet some stringent requirements. It has to have been important (we don't get deep satisfaction from trivial things). You have to have put a lot of effort into it (hence the cliché "nothing worth having comes easily"). And you have to have been responsible for the consequences.
There aren't many activities in life that can satisfy those three requirements. Having been a good parent. That qualifies. A good marriage. That qualifies. Having been a good neighbor and good friend to those whose lives intersected with yours. That qualifies. And having been really good at something--good at something that drew the most from your abilities. That qualifies. Let me put it formally: If we ask what are the institutions through which human beings achieve deep satisfactions in life, the answer is that there are just four: family, community, vocation, and faith.
the sources of deep satisfactions are the same for janitors as for CEOs, and I also said that people needed to do important things with their lives. When the government takes the trouble out of being a spouse and parent, it doesn't affect the sources of deep satisfaction for the CEO. Rather, it makes life difficult for the janitor. A man who is holding down a menial job and thereby supporting a wife and children is doing something authentically important with his life. He should take deep satisfaction from that, and be praised by his community for doing so. Think of all the phrases we used to have for it: "He is a man who pulls his own weight." "He's a good provider." If that same man lives under a system that says that the children of the woman he sleeps with will be taken care of whether or not he contributes, then that status goes away. I am not describing some theoretical outcome. I am describing American neighborhoods where, once, working at a menial job to provide for his family made a man proud and gave him status in his community, and where now it doesn't. I could give a half dozen other examples. Taking the trouble out of the stuff of life strips people--already has stripped people--of major ways in which human beings look back on their lives and say, "I made a difference."
Just as you can't give someone respect, you can't give them security, shelter and clothing, without taking away much more. Sure one can imagine situations where a helping hand is appropriate--pathologies, temporary crises--but these are exceptions, perhaps one tenth of what the modern state addresses.