I’ve spent the last few days looking through my tattered, pocket-sized Constitution, searching high and low for the portions within that authorize or regulate our government’s implementation of various social programs that now are ubiquitous in America. I thought for sure that somewhere in the Constitution I would find something about education funding or medical care. The closest I could get was Article 1, Section 8.1 which states that “The Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.” Even this reference only specifically addresses defensive spending with the other use of moneys collected being for the “general welfare” without defining what that actually is. From this, I can only conclude that (a) government is obliged to spend money collected (taxes et. al.) on general welfare; (b) general welfare is undefined and as such open to periodic interpretation; (c) the people decide what represents general welfare at any given time, and assert that decision through voting; (d) as such, the people have the power to direct both the spending and the form said welfare should take.

Defining general welfare is at the heart of the matter. General welfare encompasses the obvious things like roads and parks and public buildings. General welfare covers the formation and administration of laws and justice and legislation. But general welfare goes beyond these tangible items that government is obliged to provide based upon our own insistence that it do so. Government, as defined in our own Declaration of Independence, is formed by men to secure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and it is in these areas that my focus on general welfare will now be directed. For it is also in the general welfare to have a citizenry that is healthy, educated, and free from poverty. It is in the general welfare to provide services that ensure that a basic level of life is sustainable for all people. Over the last century, American politicians and citizens alike have made efforts to provide these “quality of life” services, and with varying levels of success. We have enacted programs to educate our young, feed our hungry, heal our sick, and shelter our poor. But instead of eradicating the number of citizens who need help, or even reducing their number, our social programs are a shambles, costing billions of dollars annually with little to show for their effort. It is an over regulated, often over lapping effort as well.

Take a look at the public institution of education. Education is a basic necessity for any civilization to advance and improve its quality of life. Many nations, ours included, recognize the importance of educating the youth and have empowered government to collect taxes to pay for a base level of public education. The supposed goal of public education is to teach young people how to master basic skills that they will need to operate as productive adult members of society. Additionally, public education is supposed to ensure that all students are exposed to science, history, and arts, as well as teaching social skills among ones peers. In America, study after study appears to show that our educational system is failing across the board. But putting all those studies aside, I am still constantly amazed at the lack of the depth of knowledge that is being taught in our schools, as evidenced in daily written communications or verbal conversations.

Or we could talk a bit about medical care and the correlation between a healthy society and the promotion of “general welfare.” Our professed belief in creating a level playing for all citizens has not yet reached the point of understanding that equitable health maintenance is critical to a prosperous society. We accept the necessity of public health care programs because we want that assurance for ourselves if we fall on hard times. But at the same time, we allow our government to use medical care as a game piece between various special interest groups without much regard for the real life consequences beyond which corporate donor gets paid back. Health care has become a complex web of corruption and indifference.

Retirement security is another member in the social program family of general welfare. One measure of a society is the manner in which they treat their elderly people. Government funded retirement security programs, like medical programs, are embraced by a public unsure of their own ability to provide for themselves in their old age, and are seeking some level of reassurance that they will not be left out in the cold. But our own social security programs, aside from being manipulated by our unworthy public servants, are entangled in a web of bureaucracy that only serves to make the days of seniors more aggravated and less relaxing.

Other socially funded programs include assistance with housing or food or childcare or programs for our military volunteers. Each of these efforts are borne out of a genuine desire by citizens to assist each other in hard times through the collections of taxes to pay for these services. But once the taxes get into the hands of the politicians, the special interest groups and corporate donors come knocking at the door, hands outstretched, trying to get the money without regard to the public desires or needs. The public, getting no relief from either political party, becomes embarrassed at first, angry in time, and apathetic at last at the seemingly endless line of corrupt politicians and business leaders.

It sometimes seems that government has some resentment at being placed at the center of social programs. Indeed, one could almost believe that the sheer inefficiency and lack of broad based successes were something of a master plan of incompetence in the hopes that the public would somehow withdraw their desire to provide social programs that ensure that everyone has the same chance out of the gate. If I wanted to get myself fired from a job, I would only need to adopt a work pattern like the government’s and I’d be out the door by lunchtime. In our desire to help each other, we have created a monster out of our government, a monster that is gobbling ever more tax dollars while placing ever more restrictions on what we can get back from our investment. Instead of operating in the best interest of the public it is tasked to serve, governments increasingly embark on missions that tinker with aspects of an already broken system instead of having the courage to point out the problems and work to get them fixed.

Entrenched ideological constructs have only enabled the morass to grow larger. Citizens have been deluded into thinking that the only reforms necessary come in the form of larger taxes, while politicians craft disingenuous policy that benefits corporations before the citizens. Breaking through that wall of complicity requires a strong dose of information and Common Sense. My next several essays will explore our public social programs of education, medicine, retirement, housing, and the others mentioned as well. I invite you to come along as I tell the truth about the state of affairs and offer some ideas for change that could really benefit society. It’s time for a fresh look at our methods. Our money, and more importantly our lives, are in the balance.