Once upon a time a scorpion needed to cross a river. It asked a crocodile
who was swimming past to give it a lift. The crocodile laughed at the
notion that it would be stupid enough to allow a scorpion to sit on its
head. The scorpion promised not to bite the crocodile, saying that if it
stung the creature that was giving it a ride, both would drown. The
crocodile figured that the scorpion would keep itself from drowning, so it
swam to the shore and allowed the scorpion to climb onto the top of its
head. Then the crocodile began to cross the river. Halfway across, the
scorpion stung the crocodile.
As the crocodile began to sink, it asked the scorpion, "Why did you sting
me? Now we both will drown."
As the water closed over their heads, the scorpion replied sadly, "I
couldn’t help it. It is in my nature to sting."
In the past few years, we have all heard that we as a nation should be our
brother’s keepers. Those employing this argument are usually either
promoting or defending a government social welfare program. They argue that
we have an obligation to help those in need, with the underlying, and
unspoken, premise that the government is the one and only entity capable of
providing that necessary assistance properly.
Is that premise true?
The truth or fallacy of that premise can be found in the nature of
government. At its most basic level, government is about power. Agents of
the government do not ask permission, they give orders. Whether a person
looks at the military, law enforcement, the courts, bureaucratic
departments, or Congress, he is looking at the state making citizens comply
with its words and actions. Every action of the state is an action of
So when an entity of power attempts to engage in an activity of assistance,
The activity becomes an avenue to increase the power of the entity. The
nature of the program is transformed to match the nature of the entity
For example, senior citizens who receive SSI are not permitted to have
resources worth more than $2,000. So, a recently widowed senior who decides
to get a part-time job can save no more than $2,000 to provide for herself.
If she crosses the $2,000 threshold even once by even $1, she is required to
reimburse the government the entire amount of her SSI payment for the month
in which the overage occurred. So she cannot slowly build a nest egg that
would allow her to leave the government assistance program, and its
regulatory force in her life.
Or think about the assistance for single parents trying to complete an
education and leave the welfare rolls. The government programs will help
with the costs of training. The government definition of training includes
cosmetology but does not include a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Of course,
a nurse with a BSN can support herself and her children without the helping
hand of the government, while a beautician will continue to "need"
government assistance, and the government programs that provide such
assistance will continue to exist.
It may be true that we are our brother’s keepers, but the government has no
brothers. It has only citizens over whom it exercises power, and it will
use every opportunity to extend that exercise.
Expecting the government to provide altruistic assistance to those who need
it is like expecting the scorpion to safely ride the crocodile. Both
expectations are naïve fantasies that wind up with someone getting drowned.