David Stokes

I like Eric Mink's columns in the Post-Dispatch.  I have praised them in the past and I am sure I will do so again.  The Post gives him plenty of column space to flesh out his ideas and his columns are usually very well researched, which forces you to give his ideas strong consideration even if you are rarely inclined to agree with him.  Today's column is not ones of his better ones, though.  Instead of a thoroughly researched piece we have an article full of poor logic and begged questions.  It is deserving of a Fisking, or at least a partial one, as it's a long column.

Mink starts out by misquoting a legislator.  He takes the unnamed legislator's quote,

"that they have no responsibility to take care of themselves or their neighbors and that it's the government's responsibility to care for them."

and restates it, "How much nerve does it take for an elected official to accuse his poor constituents of not caring whether they or their loved ones get sick?"  There is nothing in the one sentence Mink gives us where they legislator says what Mink says he said.  I agree that people need to take more responsibility for themselves and their families, it does not logically follow that I don't care if people get sick.  I'll move on, and skip over the part where Mink complains about the State now acting as a bill collector for hospitals, which serves as the MacGuffin of his article and on which I share his concerns.

I will further skip over his comments on education, which I again agree with him on.  See, I told you I liked his columns!  Education is indeed its own reward and every child deserves an opportunity to receive the best education possible.  It is at this point that the heart of the article kicks in, and really gets bad at the same time.  Mink writes:

Government obligation? That seems to be a foreign concept in an age that regards government either as a treasury to be plundered for the benefit of special interests or as an inherent evil to be undermined, dismantled and laid to rest. Yet the obligation of government to serve its people is the most American of values, a concept embedded in the founding documents of the nation.

Aside from being a little hackneyed in its phrasing, nothing too bad there.  He follows with some quotes from the Constitution and then opines:

But no reasonable person could contend that we promote "the general Welfare" of American society by allowing working families to be crushed by global economic shifts well beyond their control. The pursuit of Happiness is a cruel joke to a child living in poverty who has no opportunity to learn about the forces that shape her society and the creative impulses that elevate human experience.

We can trumpet Life and Liberty as unalienable Rights, but there is no meaningful freedom and no quality of life for people suffering from physical and mental illnesses who lack access to care that can restore their health, whose families founder in the absence of income and whose inflated medical bills become oppressive debts subject to preemptive collection by the state.

Where should I begin?  "No reasonable person could contend" is a very weak form of argument.  It assumes everyone agrees with you (the writer) except for extremists, and he follows up that logical error / lazy writing with a very general line about global economic shifts and the government 'allowing' people to be hurt.  There are many good arguments about how globalization is good for economies and, more importantly, the people who make up economies - Mink needs to address those arguments and not assume he is on the side of everything good and nice.

Mink continues with a litany of social welfare requests stated as self-evident:

A homeless veteran, physically or mentally disabled, enjoys no freedom in a life of constant danger, disdain and the disregard of the fellow Americans he or she served. Happiness and Liberty alike are denied to elderly souls living each day confined by the infirmities of age or paralyzed by the fear of financial dependence and medical calamity.

The voice of the Preamble is not passive: "establish," "insure," "provide," "promote," "secure." These are the obligations of the governments we have instituted, whether in Washington, Jefferson City or our local cities and towns. We should not have to beg our governments to do these things; it is the reason they exist. Their primary responsibility is not to do the bidding of already-powerful financial interests, reward campaign contributors, sneak through amendments for favored interest groups or run interference for ideological crusades. It is to serve the people.

There are reasons to opposed government aid and welfare programs.  People don't argue against them just because they are cruel or uncaring, as I have to believe Mink thinks.  To give it the quickest summation that I can, opposition to social welfare programs stems from a very real and backed up belief that the programs themselves create a cycle of taxation, regulation, and dependency that harms the economy needed to move people out of poverty in the first place.  Over time, the welfare state and the taxes and bureaucracy it depends on stifle the very forces that have created the world's richest nation, (that would be Chad), and lead to more poverty and misery.  At this point the bureaucrats take over (metaphorically) in order to use more resources to fight the problems the solutions themselves have created.

Mink uses quotes from our Founding Fathers to prove his point, so I would ask him what level of support our Founding Fathers saw the Federal Government giving in terms of welfare?  The answer is that they were strongly opposed to using public funds for private (individual) charity (welfare).  And if he is directing his fire at our state legislators, he should quote from the state constitution instead.

Mink ends: "The purpose of government, the founders of our country recognized, is to secure for its people the freedom and security they need to seek meaning and fulfillment in life. That requires quality health care, education, decent housing, adequate food, justice and safety. Insisting that government do its duty requires no apologies."

I also would like to insist that the government do its duty.  To the many duties Mink ascribes to it, I give him the Tenth Amendment:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved for the States respectively, or to the people.

I need to clarify here that I am not opposed to any and all government support for the needy, particularly veteran's care in this time of war.  There are social programs that I believe do not create cycles of dependency, such as short-term unemployment benefits and the revised, time-limited welfare benefits for mothers with young children.  However, for Mink to just blindly write that the government is supposed to provide the servives he deems necessary to people in need, and that people opposed to those programs are just greedy or cruel (based on his attack on the legislator), is a very poor argument.               

About the Author

David Stokes
David Stokes was a policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute from 2007 to 2014 and was director of development from 2014 to 2016.