Economists and politicians can debate whether extending unemployment benefits is a needed crutch in hard times or whether doing so discourages too many people from searching wholeheartedly for work. Society, though, might gain from a different approach.
It is an approach that I believe the author of the words, “with malice toward none; with charity for all,” might have appreciated. In his second inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln hopes that the nation will care for the widows and orphans of those men who died in battle. But in other writings he emphasizes that charity (which in itself is quite a different word than today’s usage of entitlement or benefits) is not an automatic good.
In December, 1848, Lincoln wrote his father a letter saying that he was “cheerfully” sending him a requested $20. But there was another letter written to his stepbrother on exactly the same sheet of paper! In that one, he refused his stepbrother’s application for money, suggesting that a “defect in (his stepbrother’s) conduct” would make the loan a waste of money.
By necessity, government makes broad-spectrum decisions. It divides people into categories and then makes rules affecting large numbers. It can only look at bodies, not at souls. Government can never know that two people will react differently to exactly the same stimulus.
Leaving aside those who deliberately abuse the system and even those who take taxpayer money without any compunction or regret, each person who is out of work or who has fallen on hard times is a complex individual. The great flaw in the government forcing one citizen to transfer money to another is that the coerced action negates the humanity of both.
By inserting itself into human interactions, the government removes the potential of charity, which is an action that is unique to humans, not to institutions. It takes away the possibility that Abraham Lincoln had, of ending his letters to both his father and stepbrother with the word ‘affectionately,’ opting to do what he felt would bring greatest benefit to both men. Perhaps most harmfully, by inserting itself as the primary resource, government shatters relationships and human interactions, impoverishing us all.