Sunday, June 27, 2010

Freedom to be stupid?

Gov. Schwarzenegger halts use of welfare debit cards at casinos. Now THAT is a headline that is likely to raise some hackles - whether it be for "Gov. Schwarzenegger" or "halts use of welfare debit cards at casinos". Since the idea of the governator does not bother me - surely worse have been elected by free countries throughout the world - I did have to raise my eyebrows at the idea of people using welfare debit cards in casinos. Isn't welfare intended to help people survive - to maintain their personal and family welfare? I may be wrong, but I feel rather certain that welfare does not include using the money provided by the government to go gambling.

But this does tie back in with some of my thoughts on freedom. What are the actual limits placed on the recipient of the card as to its use? It's called a welfare debit card so the implication is that it is not intended for gambling money, but are there rules that explicitly forbid it? And should there be if there are not? Finally, if there are limits placed on its use, do those limits impinge upon the freedom of the recipient?

I am inclined to argue that beggars cannot be choosers and it is certainly the right of the lender to tell the borrower how they may use the funds. But banks make loans to individuals and companies all the time - with the only proviso that the money must be paid back. The government, however, gives money to people with no such provision or requirement. (After looking through the California Department of Social Services site, I cannot see what the actual rules are for receiving, using or paying back welfare payments.) At most, it appears that the main requirement is that the recipients show an effort to seek work. So does this then grant the government the right to tell people how to spend their money? After all, once the users receive it, then it technically *is* their money.

For the government to assert dominion over how people may spend their money - regardless of where it came from - seems an abuse of power and certainly a restriction of individual freedom. That people should stupidly spend the money given to assist their personal welfare is a choice that they are allowed to make and they should be forced to suffer the consequences. But if that freedom (to be stupid) is taken from them, it is not only the stupid who shall suffer. As I had pointed out earlier, suffering the consequences of one's actions is a freedom.

And, as with most things, freedom can be a double-edged sword.

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