In my dialogues with defenders of statism, online and off, I routinely encounter people – usually though not always on the political right – who express feelings of anger, disgust, contempt, etc., toward those whom they characterize with terms like "lazy", "bums", "freeloaders", "parasites", "anti-social", "welfare queens", "druggies", "illegals", "junkies", "leeches", "the homeless", "non-productive members of society", etc. Most of the criticisms seem to boil down to resentment that the people who are the objects of their ire are in some way being assisted or provided for by government at the expense of others.
Are such feelings a step on the path toward libertarian enlightenment, or just narrow-minded self-justification? I'd like to think the former, and in some cases that may be the case, but I often have my doubts. Because from where I sit as a long-time observer of San Francisco politics and local political attitudes, the sad truth is that not just the folks who are often criticized in such terms, but the vast majority of the local population, appear, both from their voting habits and from their own comments, to want to be taken care of by the nanny-state in one way or another.
It is bitterly ironic, and hypocritical as hell, for anyone who wants government to provide them with "free" elementary schools, "free" libraries, "free" fire protection services, a "free" regulatory bureaucracy of immense scale and complexity that intrudes into everything from air travel to household pets, "free" enforcement of border controls and persecution of people who reside in or attempt to enter the U.S. without government permission, a "free" military whose budget is inching toward $1 trillion with hundreds of bases in other countries, "free" enforcement against people lying on sidewalks or sleeping in tents in the commons, etc., to look down their noses at somebody who wants "free" food stamps, "free" SSI, or "free" housing vouchers as being necessarily a much worse leech or parasite than themselves or their friends.
Let's be crystal clear about this: ALL of these things and more are forms of nanny-state welfare designed to take money stolen from taxpayers to fund services desired by particular constituencies, which members of those constituencies are unwilling to pay for themselves, whether or not the "free" service in question is called "welfare" or not.
For anyone tempted to feel disgusted, contemptuous, or resentful toward those whom you characterize as wanting to be taken care of by the "nanny-state", please examine what "free" things you yourself want government to provide at the expense of others. Those who want more welfare than you do when it comes to food stamps or SSI or housing vouchers may in many cases want LESS welfare than you do when it comes to the military-industrial complex, or border controls, or home loans, or government education, etc., and may even want less welfare and a less controlling, less authoritarian government overall!
Before we judge anyone else too harshly, here's an illuminating pair of questions for each of us to ask ourselves:
1) How much theft, and how much coercion, would be required for government to do the things that I want it to do?
2) How can I reduce the amounts of theft and coercion that I am effectively demanding?