Collective Farms as a Solution to the Welfare State’s Demise?

A Radical Overhaul of Welfare

Growing Vegetables on a Modern Collective Farm

This article proposes the radical overhaul of government welfare in the United States to solve many social ills the present system creates. Instead of cash payouts and food stamps that cause social dependency, despondency, and ghettos where the poor are jammed together in cities, it is proposed that the government provide a social safety net through living on collective farms. This is a type of communism, but not communism for the entire population, only the welfare class. While providing a safety net, it would put people in a constructive setting where they could work for their sustenance or be cared for largely by others who are not employed by the private economy.

This type of system would be a modern version of the Babylonian system of temple welfare that lasted over 1,000 years and was discussed on this blog on August 16. It would dramatically reduce taxes and crime, and provide self-esteem and personal life skills necessary for employment in the private economy. It would provide a path for those who wanted to join the private economy in a productive capacity. These collective farms could both produce healthy organically-grown fruits, vegetables, and eggs and provide places for social security and long-term care for those too old or ill to work who had not adequately saved or have family who can care for them. They could be modern facilities.

This system is not a foreign concept in the United States, in fact this pretty much describes the social function of the Shaker communities that were often places of refuge for the unemployed and widowed in 19th century New England. The Shakers not only cared for their members without state funds, but were also known for their fine hand-crafted furniture. In ancient Babylon the temples may have taught basket weaving and pottery skills and earned some income from the sale of such items.

A Non-Denominational Collective Farm

Shaker-style furniture was made in communal workshops

One of the challenges for the modern welfare state is neutrality with respect to religion. The Shaker community and many other nineteenth century social experiments were religiously based. The Shakers eventually died out as they promoted a biblical lifestyle that forbade sexual intercourse among residents. Government-supported collective farms might also want to reduce the number of babies born in welfare communities, even though the current welfare system encourages out-of-wedlock pregnancies as a way to get government support. It would be more rational to encourage the shrinking, rather than the growth of the welfare class.

Communism as a System for Welfare Only

Soon after the rise of modern capitalism, a communist reaction concerned with economic injustice and unemployment caused by capitalism has been called its alter-ego in Western social consciousness. The Bolshevik Revolution in Russia led to government control of capital and the attempt to dispense rational economic justice through a command economy. In 1991, the communist system proved a colossal failure that had destroyed the incentive for people to work, and fostered an elite class, called the nomenklatura, and an entire dependent population. The Russians, and the Chinese as well, learned the hard way that communism is a disaster for the economy of an entire nation-state. It led to depopulation and widespread famines.

Russian collective farms were neutral to hostile with respect to inherited religious values and state ideology demanded that everyone who was able should work for their livelihood. The Chinese system under Mao Tse Dung also developed collective farms and much has been learned from their history. They have conducted a more scientific analysis of their experiments since the time of Deng Xiao Ping. One interesting lesson is that collective farms of up to about 10 families were reasonably productive. These were farms where everyone worked together as an extended family with daily face-to-face relations. However, when collective farms became large villages with 5,000 to 10,000 residents, and were administered bureaucratically, it was impossible to prevent people from slacking off and abusing the system at the expense of everyone. Such large collective farms were simply miniature versions of a communist bureaucratic state, and elsewhere on this blog you can find articles about the reasons such bureaucracies are unable to care or adequately provide welfare. Communes need to be small enough to provide a sense of community, belonging, and sharing.

The Travesty of the Present System

The travesty of the present welfare state is that is rewards irresponsible behavior and punishes responsible behavior. This is because it attacks symptoms, like unemployment or unwanted pregnancies, with the redistribution of money. Not only does the current practice waste money and cause welfare dependency, it also provides no disincentive for irresponsible behavior. In impoverished areas where masses are unemployed and on welfare, idle hands can be said to become the devil’s playground.

Americans were able to turn a blind eye to the present system as long as the tax burden was small and the underclass was kept out of sight. But as this underclass has caused massive increases in taxes and become a source of social unrest it can no longer be ignored. The addiction to handing out money, instead of attacking root causes of unemployment and socially irresponsible behavior, is now ingrained in our unsustainable political culture. It is time to think outside the present system and imagine forms of social welfare that improve individual lives and society rather than destroying them.

Obamacare and the Modern Welfare State

President Barack Obama ran on the slogan “change you can believe in.” He was a champion of the unemployed and no stranger to the problems of New York and Chicago’s underclass areas.  Unfortunately the change he attempted to bring was a welfare state to the entire population. He has simply tried to restore the failed welfare policies of the Russian and Chinese Communists and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. If governments would stop handing out free money and supplies in exchange for political votes, and actually start helping people to become productive, not in ideological public schools but on life on self-supporting organic farms, that would provide change I could believe in.

The buildings and facilities for such communal endeavors could be created with far less tax dollars than the billions handed out in cash and wasted. Residents could learn far more about productivity and self-esteem than awarding everyone “A”s in public schools so they are not offended. Instead of destroying an entire economy by forcing everyone into a socialist system, the socialist system could be an alternative system for those in need. And, the “community organizers” that President Obama wants so desperately to provide jobs, could be managers and caretakers of these collective welfare communities.

Instead of being incentivized, as modern social welfare programs are, by a head-count method of public dollars that encourages agencies to keep as many people on their rolls as possible. A collective farm system would incentivize the welfare workers to get people on their feet and re-enter society because, like with tradition church welfare programs, more recipients just mean harder work and sacrifice. And, of course it requires theft through redistribution of taxes on responsible citizens.

Unlike the forced mandate to purchase health insurance that came with Obamacare, a system of socialism for the underclass only would be voluntary and only affect the needy. Government clinics, likely to be buildings on collective farms spread through the country, could be attended freely by those without health insurance and their cost would not be subsidized in a way that quadruples the price of current US health insurance. Such clinics could be staffed by interns in medical and nursing schools, and serviced by noble physicians like “Doctors Without Borders” and the clinics in central and South America.

This System is Not New

Mishima Collective Farm

We have already referred to the ancient and well-functioning Babylonian system and government clinics in other countries. It worked not only in Babylon for over 1,000 years, but existed in many other traditional societies. In the United States it was reinvented by the Shakers, and the hospitals and schools built by religious priests and nuns. The main problem in the United States is that such service was not broad enough. People fell through the cracks until public homes and shelters became available in the late 19th century.

The problem with the present system is primarily its perverse economic incentives that came about by throwing money at welfare rather than really providing welfare that gets people on their feet and feeling good about themselves. The present welfare system is not sustainable, but alternative systems have proven to be so.

It Will Take a Real Effort but Be Rewarding

Some people receiving apartments, food stamps, and housing for doing nothing in return, and more money apartments and food stamps for birthing children in poverty, will likely resist changes in which they move to a dormitory in a rural setting and tend to organic crops or manufacture furniture. However, many people may welcome such a change. I started out on a farm and the principles I learned from nature were foundational for later learning sound principles of science and society. I personally lived in an experimental commune in the 1970s and found it quite enriching.

A Collective Farm Market

The real challenge will not be to the recipients of such welfare, but those involved in the political machine that controls the present system. Many politicians are receiving their jobs by taking from the responsible and giving it out to dependent serfs they have created in order to buy votes. However, the lives such welfare politicians provide for their dependents is a dead-end road. While claiming to “help people” they are ultimately engaged in morally reprehensible acts, both of theft from the productive, and treating the symptoms of their dependents with money rather them enabling them to become free and independent citizens.

Collective farms for welfare would change demographics so that political slum lords would lose their clients and jobs and be replaced by representatives of productive citizens as the Founding Fathers intended. Such politicians would not go quietly, but it would be rewarding to watch what would follow in their place. In line with the principle of subsidiarity and constitutional principles, I recommend all such enterprises be done by counties or states and the federal government return to its mission of protecting borders and being funded by excise and sales taxes.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the desire to serve the poor, bred into Western consciousness by Christian values, can be met in a way that is neither by the callousness of “letting the private sector take care of it” nor the wastefulness of current welfare dependency addiction. We can create post-modern forms of welfare that we knew in the past under religious guise. If President Obama implemented his change for his supporters in this way, he could take credit for both balancing the budget by drastically reducing entitlements while implementing a form of socialism for many of those who voted him into office. By transforming the welfare system to collective farms he could become a real hero, who saved the United States rather than known as the President that “fiddled” while it collapsed.

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About Gordon Anderson

GORDON L. ANDERSON is the President of Paragon House, Editor-in-Chief of International Journal on World Peace, and Adjunct Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies. He earned an M.Div. in Christian Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York and a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion from Claremont Graduate University. He is author of several articles and books including Philosophy of the United States: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness and Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, Version 4.0.

Comments

Collective Farms as a Solution to the Welfare State’s Demise? — 5 Comments

  1. Are you joking…does anyone else see that this would create modern day slavery…Did you get this idea after watching WWII videos? Next thing you will say is that we should just start killing everyone that is considered a burden on society…Wow…

    • I guess you didn’t read the article. This would all be voluntary, along the lines of moving in with a family (or checking into rehab) instead of laying in the gutter. But, one would be free to try that option as well as get a job and a place to live on their own.

  2. Gordon, there is no doubt that your vision – backed by historical practice of various types, as you mentioned – produces a much better outcome for all at a much lower cost. When moral and spiritual values are factored in (as they should be, after all, because we are moral and spiritual beings) the argument for the status quo falls apart. The real question is: can we get there from here? How? Since this is to be voluntary, there would need to be a very deep, well thought out plan for both short and long term transition questions. Would something need to be “taken away” from current welfare recipients in order to get their attention and present a better alternative? How about food stamps? A hungry stomach might encourage change. A key would be to create 4-5 pilot projects and move the debate from mere philosophy to practical applications. This is the kind of right-brain thinking we need! Keep it up. Politicians are you listening?

    • Alan, It would be good, as you suggest to create a few pilot projects. Governments could set aside land and build buildings for people to live in to get them started. They should become self-sufficient later. However, it will not be easy for welfare recipients to move to a collective farm easily. Inevitably things will get worse for them do to the necessity of rationing and at some point the idea of a collective farm will look more interesting. Also, it is likely that when they find such a life is not the dead end of 2nd and 3rd generation welfare recipients, more people may want to do it. Also a farm will have food security and there may be shortages in the cities that make food stamps useless. There are always a number of people on welfare looking for self-respect and a way out of dependency. Eventually the public mood should shift.

      The urban politicians that are mutually dependent on welfare recipients and only remain in office by keeping them dependent will resist. You will need the equivalent of Wisconsin’s Governor Walker to stand up to them. Ironically, I am proposing a communist-type solution but I expect the democrats will resist because there is nothing about stealing from rich in it. And, the Republicans will resit because it will likely look too much like communism to them–even thought it will promote the values of thrift and self-reliance embodied in the Tea Party. It would, however be a meeting place for the more noble political leaders in both parties–those not living off of special interest money.

      These organic farms will pose a challenge to agribusiness monopolies. My niece is an organic farmer and Monsanto, Cargill, et. al. play political hardball trying every trick to shut them down. However, organic farms should produce healthier food with fewer chemicals.
      Reply

      • Maybe some church groups should take up the challenge, establish a prototype, staff it and find a way to contract with the state to care for these individuals in exchange for some of their welfare money. This is what residential care organizations do for the mentally and physically challenged. Get local stakeholders involved and create partnerships for a win win scenario.

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