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The Voluntarism Fantasy

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“Helping the Poor–Gratuitous Distribution of Coal by the City–Cherry Street,” New York City, 1877

Konczal’s essay on the voluntarism fantasy of conservatives who argue that private charity used to operate as a functional charity distributor before the big bad state destroyed individualism is pretty definitive. Konczal correctly destroys this myth and spits out its remains, showing how the state has always been involved in any meaningful welfare work in this country and that the problem with the pre-New Deal welfare programs is that the state wasn’t nearly involved enough. I’d only add to this essay that federally subsidized westward expansion was also part of this welfare state, as Republicans especially explicitly saw the frontier as a social safety net that would alleviate poverty without directly giving charity to people.

Really, the Hooverism of Paul Ryan and other Republican granny starvers isn’t just wanting to destroy the federal welfare state, it’s also that they, like Hoover, hold onto myths of an individualistic past that never existed.

James Kwak has more commentary.

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