This essay was written by Benjamin Franklin in 1766. The context was the imposition of strict regulations by the British on colonial trade, in particular farmers seemed to bear the brunt of the burden. Here is an excerpt from The Encouragement of Idleness:
But, it seems, we Farmers must take so much less, that the poor may have it so much cheaper.
This operates then as a tax for the maintenance of the poor. A very good thing, you will say. But I ask, Why a partial tax? Why laid on Farmers only? If it be a good thing pray, Messrs. the Public, take your share of it, by indemnifying us a little out of your public treasury. In doing a good thing there is both honor and pleasure; you are welcome to your part of both. For my own part, I am not so well satisfied of the goodness of this thing. I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in the opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer. There is no country in the world where so many provisions are established for them; so many hospitals to receive them when they are sick or lame, founded and maintained by voluntary charities; so many alms-houses for the aged of both sexes, together with a solemn general law made by the rich to subject their estates to a heavy tax for the support of the poor. Under all these obligations are our poor modest, humble, and thankful; and do they use their best endeavors to maintain themselves, and lighten our shoulders of this burden? On the contrary, I affirm that there is no country in the world in which the poor are more idle, dissolute, drunken, and insolent. The day you passed that act, you took away from before their eyes the greatest of all inducements to industry, frugality, and sobriety, by giving them a dependence on somewhat else than a careful accumulation during youth and health, for support in age or sickness. In short, you offered a premium for the encouragement of idleness, and you should not now wonder that it has had its effect in the increase of poverty. Repeal that law, and you will soon see a change in their manners.
St. Monday, and St. Tuesday, will cease to be holidays. Six days shalt thou labour, though, one of the old commandments long treated as out of date, will again be looked upon as a respectable precept; industry will increase, and with it plenty among the lower people; their circumstances will mend; and more will be done for their happiness by inuring them to provide for themselves, than could be done by dividing all your estates among them.
Surely, it’s not hard to see that Franklin’s words apply eerily well today.
“… I affirm that there is no country in the world in which the poor are more idle, dissolute, drunken, and insolent.”
“… a premium for the encouragement of idleness”
Evidently, the issues that some would argue are unique to the 21st century have in fact existed for centuries (and indeed much longer). Ben Franklins observations and insights are just as applicable today. Our founding fathers understood mankind much better than subsequent generations of elected leaders. The system of government they created applied this understanding to preserve liberty in the face of a system vulnerable to being coopted by the selfish and ‘well intended’. If we are to preserve this nation, we must invest in obtaining an equal understanding and have the humility to accept the gift of the limited system of government our founding fathers intended.