Welfare Needs to be a Tool To Extend Freedom. In a democracy, government should work to extend equality of opportunity, to ensure that each individual has the ability to take control of his or her own life. Our welfare system should be one of the tools government uses to extend freedom (and yes, most Republicans do believe in welfare for this purpose).
The Standard of Success Has to be Economic: I agree that we want our welfare system to produce happy, well-balanced citizens. But the only standard government can really use to evaluate the welfare system is economic – do the children that are supported through the welfare system grow up to be economically self-sufficient, tax paying citizens? The government can’t evaluate happiness, and shouldn’t be in the business of trying. But we can measure economic self-determination – we can know if kids who come through the welfare are able to support themselves. At some point we need to quantify the government’s successes and failures in extending freedom.
The Right Wind Pretends Social Engineering is Optional. Sometimes people on the right speak as if Social Engineering is something government can choose not to do. It is not a choice, it is a description of reality – every act of government, at some level, engineers society in a given direction, from where to put a highway to which crimes should be federal. Pretending that government doesn’t engineer society doesn’t make it so – it just means the consequences of the engineering are unanticipated.
The Left Doesn’t Seem to Like the “Engineering” Part. Sometimes people on the left seem to have forgotten the engineering part of social engineering. Part of the process is to define expected outcomes and compare the results against the expectations. If expectations aren’t met, then the engineering is changed – we try something different. Arguably many parts of our welfare systems aren’t meeting expectations – we aren’t giving the people who come through the system the ability to take economic control of their lives.