Dependence leads to three things: vulnerability, entitlement and resentment. It’s the way most teenagers feel about their parents, the way some domestic partners feel about their spouses, and the way far too many Americans feel about government programs.
That isn’t a criticism (although it might sound like one), it’s just an observation. If we worked together, and I brought you a coffee every day, you’d probably start off appreciating it. But after a few weeks, you’d be expecting it. That would make you vulnerable, because if you’re a coffee addict, and I suddenly stop bringing it, you wouldn’t have any. You’d also be annoyed (feeling resentful), because you would have been expecting it (felt entitled to it). That’s just human nature.
With coffee, there are plenty of other sources at a variety of price points, so the vulnerability, entitlement and resentment are fairly low-intensity. In contrast, as the outcry over proposed cuts to Planned Parenthood, the NEA, EPA and a variety of other programs clearly shows, when it comes to Federally-subsidized healthcare and jobs, there’s nothing low-intensity about the emotions involved.
In addition to their controversial abortion procedures, Planned Parenthood provides checkups, STI treatment, cancer screenings and other medical services to low-income women who otherwise wouldn’t have access to them. Although it is a private entity, 40% of its funding (about $550 million) comes from taxpayers, in the form of Medicaid reimbursements and Title X grants. The prospect of a Republican administration cutting off that money supply has understandably terrified Planned Parenthood supporters. Because the organization is dependent on those dollars, they are vulnerable to political changes. At the same time, they feel entitled to have other people pay for the services they provide, and are resentful that the payments might end.
Interestingly, according to Planned Parenthood, individual donations have spiked by a factor of 40 since the election. That’s not a 40% increase, that’s a 4,000% increase! However, those donations won’t be used to provide medical services, they’ll be used to lobby against the cuts.
Planned Parenthood is a great example, because supporters are legitimately in fear for its survival, but the same general scenario applies to fans of public broadcasting, climate change research and other items in line for the chopping block.
But here’s the thing: in case you haven’t noticed, the Federal government is roughly $20 trillion in debt. That is an unimaginably huge number, and there’s absolutely no plan to deal with it. No matter how great your organization is, if your business plan is based on getting bank deposits from an entity that is not only bankrupt, but whose debt is almost a quarter of the entire global economy, you’re just not in a very secure position.
There are ways to deal with the debt – most notably, maverick economist Martin Armstrong (subject of the documentary “The Forecaster“) has proposed a solution that involves debt-to-private-equity swaps and ending federal taxation – but, so far, nobody at the Federal level has actually done anything productive. Point being: there just isn’t enough money for everything people want the government to pay for. At some point, all these programs are going away. Believing otherwise is nothing more than wishful thinking.
There is also a philosophical argument against government largesse: all taxation is based on force (try not filing your income tax return and you’ll find out what that means), and force is not justified simply because you’re doing something good with the money. In other words, if it’s illegal for a woman to point a gun at your head and demand that you pay for her cancer screening, it shouldn’t be legal for the government to do the same thing. But leaving that aside, it seems clear that relying on government programs is a bad idea for the people who rely on them.
In the past, public funding was considered more stable and less time-consuming for non-profit organizations than conventional fundraising. While there are large companies that specialize in helping non-profits raise money, Uncle Sam’s wallet was the Holy Grail for charitable enterprises. That attitude fed dependence and entitlement, and as the tap starts being turned off, the resentment will grow.
As President Trump’s willingness to slaughter sacred cows proves, it is time for the dependence to end. Any organization that wants to succeed – or even survive – needs to figure out how to do so with private-sector dollars. Instead of wasting energy demanding that taxpayers continue to pay for whatever-it-is-you-provide, it would be advisable to divert that energy into cultivating alternative sources of revenue. There’s no easy way to make that transition, but it’s time to get started.