Monday, February 22, 2010

What is your price?

I know a guy...

He lives with this woman and has for about 15 years. They aren't married although they refer to each other as husband and wife. Both believe in marriage and they do love one another. Money isn't scarce. He has a good job with benefits and she makes a good living so they could certainly afford the marriage license. It's been the cause of many arguments and a lot of hurt feelings. What could possibly be keeping these two people from pursuing the formal decree that would legitimize a situation that both of them admit some shame over?

About $600 a month.

You see, this guys "wife" is actually a widow from a previous marriage and receives a widows pension. The exact dollar amount escapes me at the moment, but it was about $600 a month. She works under the table making cash to the tune of about $1600 a month [that's cash money- no tax withholding]. The husband makes about $2000 gross a month not including his benefits package. Together they make many times the amount that she receives each month, but if they marry, she will lose those benefits. This couple has chosen to place $600 between themselves and true happiness and fulfillment. To them, $600 a month is worth more than their happiness.

We all know a story like this one. Someone who is willing to give up a portion of their liberty, their personal happiness, for a seemingly insufficient price. The woman who stays with a husband who beats her for the security of the money. The politician who tramples his personal integrity to pay back a special interest group of importance to his campaign. A more than cursory glance around us will show that these instances are not only common, but they are sadly rampant in our culture.

Kentucky has some unkind, albeit true, distinctions from other states in the Union. It didn't take Diane Sawyers skewed and shoddy reporting to get us to admit that there are areas of Kentucky where families choose to live by a lower standard because it is easy [ BTW, did anyone else notice that Sawyer stuck the skewers to Appalachia shortly after the 2008 election where Kentucky was the first state to go red for McCain?]. Social Services in the eastern part of the state have a shocking proficiency at garnering entitlement goodies. A single mother can live in government housing, get food stamps, WIC and the state will even pay her child care if she works at least 20 hours a week. But for each of those things that she is told she is owed, she auctions away a little of herself. The EBT card only buys permitted foods and government housing has rules about behavior. Every deal has a price to pay. How much of your liberty, your privacy, your sacred honor are you willing to auction and is the price fair for something so precious?

For those of you not familiar, those on Social Security, Disability and SSI are subject to liquid asset restrictions. They are not permitted more than a MAX [there's a - hehehehe- progressive scale on this amount] of $3000 total in liquid savings, whole life insurance policies, annuities, and stocks. They cannot have more than one vehicle. Medical benefits stop after one month of violating the income "cap". Hmmm, capping a persons production. Hmmm, where have I heard that before? Now, if a person makes a combined total of $1600 a month from which they are able to live fairly comfortably and for which they only have to make some "minor" concessions on their liberties, what is the incentive to cast off the "cap" and strive to do better? The culture war has hardened people against the notion of the American Dream convincing them that it is only attainable for the well-connected or "lucky". For many of us, simple personal pride makes us want to make it on our own merit without the "leg-up" from government or the numerous strings attached. But working our way up is now being de- incentivized for the safety of a more austere government-sanctioned lifestyle.

Sure, with all of these programs our single mother can survive without the child's father being involved and that may be a good thing. Maybe, he is a drunk or perhaps he's violent. Maybe they just don't get along. Maybe she just wants something better. But if all of the cushions that soften the impact of the fall take away the pain of the plummet, then will we think twice about making the same stupid leap the next time?

Social Security is upside down for the first time ever, we are spending out more in benefits than we are bringing in in payroll revenue. It won't be there when the workers of today are of traditional retirement age. Hell, it probably won't be there in five years.

What will become of ours seniors then? What did people do before the government stepped in? They depended on each other. They depended on the families that they had raised throughout their lives to see to their needs in their twilight years. When there was a disaster, neighbors helped each other . There were no bailouts after the Civil War. Sure, times were tough and resources were scarce, but through their connection to each other people had a connection to reality and their souls that we have frittered away piece by piece for the sake of safety.

Benjamin Franklin said [and I am paraphrasing] that the man who values safety over liberty deserves neither and will lose both. This change in the American consciousness has robbed us not only of our personal integrity- our sacred honor- but it has worn away at the exceptionalism that was the beacon of the American spirit to the rest of the world.

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