That, as Instapundit has observed on many occasions, incentives work, even perverse incentives.
One of the many reasons I enjoy reading the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (other than in order to slow the atrophy of my language skills) is because from time to time they’ll have an article or series of articles on issues which we have to contend with here in the U.S. Only here in the U.S., and especially since the advent of Dear Leader on the scene, you can’t discuss much of anything without the toxin of “race” being injected into the conversation. Unless your position is to crank open the money spigots without condition and without consideration for the future — societal, financial, political — you’re a racist. So it’s nice to eavesdrop on a conversation where “race” doesn’t render the substance of the debate into something like the the bastard child (no pun intended) of a fraud and a farce. [Of course, in Germany they have, instead of “race,” the “immigration” issue that is increasingly accomplishing much the same corruption of logic.]
In Germany the national equivalent of America’s federal welfare system is referred to as “Hartz IV,” referring presumably to . . . well, whatever it refers to. As near as I can make it out, it encompasses the whole panoply of direct transfer payments, subsidies of services, and in-kind benefits. If I understand correctly (this may not be correct, so don’t hold me to it) it was a consolidation and rationalization of multiple formerly independently administered programs, and may have been an outgrowth of the same considerations and meta-policy decisions which produced the liberalization of the German labor and the tightening of the retirement laws back towards the beginning of the century. Those were the economic reforms which enabled Germany to weather the 2008 melt-down much better than America, an experience which only cemented the predominance of the German economy in the EU. Interestingly, perhaps ironically, those reforms were initiated by the SPD government then in power, a government in which several key players had been involved — some very prominently — in the 1968 student protests, which were of course explicitly Marxist in inspiration and goals.
Reality is powerful medicine indeed, even if some societies, e.g. Greece, seem to have built up immunity to it.
In any event, the FAZ recently ran a very short article to the effect that more children under the age of 15 are living off of Hartz IV than at any point in the last five years, and that fully half of them are children of single parents. Specifically, 1.6 million under the age of 15 now derive their subsistence from the state.
Five years ago was of course 2010, in the depths of the crash. Germany didn’t escape it, but thanks to Angela Merkel’s refusal to follow Dear Leader down the path of limitless borrowing and pouring sand down rat-holes of “shovel-ready projects” (remember them, Gentle Reader?), it didn’t hit there with anything like the ferocity it did here. Of course, Germany also didn’t have Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac consciously inflating a fraudulent housing boom, either. In any event Germany came out of it much faster, much stronger, and the long-term effects of it seem to be much less than here.
So why has the number of children completely dependent on the state mushroomed?
Maybe it’s something as simple as when you offer people money to do things that are actually self-destructive, things they might under other circumstances avoid doing or at least defer doing — you know, like having a child out of wed-lock, or before you acquire a trade, or before you have any financial cushion built up — you get more of that behavior across the overall population than you used to. Maybe. Although in any particular instance you might point to any number of specific motivations, Gentle Reader must keep in mind that we’re talking about the laws of very large numbers. Anecdote and pattern are different things; it’s why we use different words for them.
The comments to the article run from the predictable on one end to the predictable on the other. It’s all capitalism’s fault. It’s welfare queens. It’s all the indigent immigrants we’re letting in with their swarms of indigent children. It’s the dead-beat dads. It’s our need for cheap oil (ergo: it’s fossil fuel’s fault, and therefore . . . Koch Brothers!!). And so forth.
Articles like this one, and discussions like the one intimated in the comments, are helpful to keep in mind as we think through the same issues in the U.S. Here’s the apparent paradox: Increasingly generous benefits for poor children and their unmarried parents, combined with a shrinking population and repeated lamentations by industry that they can’t find good help seem to exist side-by-side with increasing and record numbers of poor children and unmarried parents. And all without “the legacy of slavery” or the disintegration of the Black Family or “structural racism” to blame it on. Perhaps something else is going on? Like maybe incentives work? Who’da thunk it?
Human nature is, after all, universal, a reality which not seldom escapes even otherwise unusually perceptive people.