Megan McArdle says, aside in a long post on the progress of Marxism,
And richer societies can afford to do more. One of the (to me) more compelling arguments in favour of new welfare programmes is that we are so rich, as a society, that we can afford to waste relatively large sums on government incompetence and deadweight loss in order to produce even small improvements in the lives of the truly unfortunate. And if the number of needy shrinks, we can do more for the ones who remain.This would be accurate if programs to help the needy did, in fact, shrink the number of needy. But with any program we currently know how to design, this is not likely to be the case:
The more dysfunctional a family unit (usually a single, unwed mother and her various children) the more caregiving it is qualified to receive. On top of that the dominant theory in "social services" is the preservation of this family unit guaranteeing that the children are exposed to the dysfunctional values of the mother. [...] The sons thus frequently grow up as petty criminals when young and violent criminals when older. The daughters find themselves pregnant long before completing school and the entire process starts over again having replicated itself with the help of "benevolent" handouts.Theodore Dalrymple has written most compellingly on this; start here.
[Update 9 August: see also Table Scraps.]