A country's success depends on freedom and opportunity for the weakest individual.
This is me thinking out loud. It's meant to stir debate and bring out ideas from others. Call it trickle up economics if you want, but I think my version of what makes a country successful for the long haul is different from most.
I consider both opportunity and freedom to be at least initially accidents of birth and while some can overcome being slighted at birth, the struggle is harder when you weren't born in the right place at the right time.
Freedom at birth is determined mostly by where you were born and the laws in place. Freedom can be loosely defined. One could say that someone born in Yemen is free to do as he wishes since there is no government control, but I think that the religious control is enough to squash the governmental freedom. Economic freedom is available if you want to be a pirate, but not much else is available.
Opportunity is also mostly determined by where you were born and the laws that are place, but the difference can be sub-divided much more. Being born on one side of the tracks can provide you much more opportunity than the other. Also who your parents play a bigger role. A son born to a high ranking cleric in Yemen is born with a lot more opportunity than the daughter of a pauper. Again you can overcome either of these things, but your struggle is harder.
So I know most of you are scratching your heads thinking that I'm sounding awfully liberal and providing a platform for the introduction of broad based social programs aimed at providing for the weakest. Stay tuned, because that is not exactly what I'm proposing. In fact in my own little cluster of brain cells, it's more like the opposite. Let's talk a little more about that accident of birth. You can't choose any variable of your birth. Where, when, who etc... are all chosen for you by your parents. That's right, your freedom and opportunity are chosen for you, before you are even born. Doesn't sound fair does it? Now immediately some of you thought that the way to correct that would be to limit the freedom of your parents to make that choice, but after a second or two you realized how stupid of a scenario that actually is. Imagine the the power of some other entity that could decide your very existence. A freedom for you would be limited before you are even thought of. If you were born, you would have to submit to the same power later in life. On the other hand, is it right for a single mother of 6 on welfare to decide to have another child out of wedlock that will be the responsibility of society? This brings me to some tenants about freedom.
I initially thought that freedom should only be limited for the individual if it infringes on the freedom of others, but you can see how this would be applied mis-correctly in the above scenario. There has to be more than an infringement on someone else's freedom. Otherwise, Your freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion could all be limited with such a tenant.
"In "On Liberty" (1859) John Stuart Mill argued that "...there ought to exist the fullest liberty of professing and discussing, as a matter of ethical conviction, any doctrine, however immoral it may be considered. " Mill argues that the fullest liberty of expression is required to push arguments to their logical limits, rather than the limits of social embarrassment. However, Mill also introduced what is known as the harm principle, in placing the following limitation on free expression: "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.(1)"
(1) copied word for word from wikipedia
The freedom of deciding to have a child and making a bad choice does harm society as a whole, but is it enough harm to decide to take that freedom away? I personally think not.
What it amounts to is that "With freedom comes responsibility". You can't mandate responsibility anymore than my mom could get me to eat my peas at dinner, unless you are willing to remove freedom. In my case, it was my freedom to have dessert. While I fully believe that there are a few cases to limit freedom for the greater good, this would not be one of them. Once a freedom is surrendered, it is hard to get that freedom back. Often, the reasons for taking away a freedom are expanded to the point that the result is far from intended. I don't want to sterilize welfare moms anymore than I want the China "One Child" policy implemented.
So what can you do? Well I am a firm believer in education and an educated person is less likely to make a poor decision. I believe that education is an investment in society. My version of what education should be is a lot different than most people though and too long of a discussion to go into here. You should also not encourage a poor decision and I think that in this case, that might be the better solution. A welfare program that rewards someone for harming society is just adding fuel to the fire. Any program that doesn't help her take the responsibility of supporting her children on her own, including getting support from the father(s) is harming not only society, but her children. She should be given enough of an opportunity to fix her situation, but if she is unwilling to, (notice that I didn't say unable to), society and her children are better served by removing them from her care. I know that this is picking at nits here, since I did still take away freedom as the end result, but only after she refused an opportunity to take responsibility. If she takes the responsibility, she keeps her freedom in tact and tells the government to jump in the lake.
Ok, so now a little bit about opportunity.
Simply by breaking the cycle above, I have created more of an opportunity for the next generation. There will be fewer children born to raise the welfare paychecks, and less of an economic strain on the public as a whole. Fewer children will grow up with the blueprint of total dependence on the government. Now that being said, the greatest opportunity I can give is a better investment on education. (specifically personal finance) I actually believe that most people have children at a time that they shouldn't have. If you are struggling to take care of yourself, you have no business having a child. If we taught even the most basic personal finance skills, children born today would be much better off, for the simple reason that their parents are more prepared. Also we will have to consider a hopefully declining amount of children under the care of society that we took from the Welfare moms. Money must definitely be spent to make sure that they have opportunity. The cycle of dependence must be broken for society to make an investment rather than a dependent.
OK to sum up, I initially tried to solve a problem without limiting freedom. When I found that I had to somehow limit freedom, I could not come up with a litmus test to limit a freedom based simply on impact to society that was fair and just. It wasn't until I gave the individual an opportunity to be responsible that I was able to come up with such a test. By making a conscience decision to shun responsibility, the mother decided to harm her children and society. At this point I could decide to limit her freedom because of her decision and not her circumstance. If I would have arbitrarily decided that she could not have children because she is on welfare, I would have condemned a freedom when she did not have opportunity.
Notice the generational effect of the Welfare program. It not only limits the opportunity for the mother, but limits the opportunity of the child at birth. That's why social programs should never be entitlements. The mother must be given a opportunity to succeed, not just blind support or the cycle will never be broken.
This scenario was entirely thought out as I was posting on this blog. I have not tested this theory on other problems as of yet, but I intend to try and find the fly in the ointment. Maybe you can come up with it before I can.
Please expand, debate, or call me nuts below...