This is an updated version of an original post that ran 3 February 2014.
Here is a sketch of Malthus’s argument that official government beneficence causes the problem it seeks to cure.
This is only a cartoon, but a helpful one. It follows one of the arguments the Reverend Thomas Malthus used in his An Essay on Population to show government handouts beget more government handouts.
Malthus believed, and history thus far vindicates, there were only two possible forms of human community: one in which most are comparatively (or relatively) poor and one in which everyone but an elite is absolutely poor. Laws designed under the influence of Benevolence must lead to the latter, he said.
I was reminded of this argument in the late-great David Stove’s What’s Wrong With Benevolence?.
We start at Step  (top line) with a small class of Poor who are to be fed, clothed, sheltered, cell-phoned, high-speed-interneted, and so forth by Government with funds provided by the Taxed. Government extracts wealth from those who have it, keeps a portion for itself (this step is oft forgotten), and dispenses the rest to the Poor. At this top level, the portion the Government keeps is small and the disparity in wealth between Poor and Taxed, while it exists, is small and feels natural: there are the rich, many somewhere in the middle, and the poor are few.
But some of the Taxed are not rich; indeed, they are just above the Poor threshold (the Government of course defines this threshold). These At Risk folks receive some of their wealth from those richer than themselves, such as from employers, and these who are richer, who now must surrender some of their wealth to Government, can’t give as much to the At Risk. Those At Risk also must surrender some of their wealth to Government to pay for the Poor. The At Risk thus suffer a deficit, both from lack of income and the growth of outgo. Some fall into Poverty.
By Step  the class of Poor has grown. This necessitates Government asking the Taxed to “pay their fair share”, i.e. politicians must take a larger bite. By this point, the disparity in wealth, which once seemed natural and almost invisible, has grown noticeable; people wonder how to “correct” it. The Government swells in size and power as more wealth comes under its control: a smaller proportion of taxes are given to the Poor, but this is masked by “borrowing from the future.” Those newly At Risk struggle harder than before, and more fall into Poverty.
After a while, at Step [n], the class of Poor is large and its maintenance becomes painful. The Taxed are excessively burdened; many make devils’ bargains with Government to forestall the inevitable, which has the effect of increasing Government power. The wealth disparity is now glaring, with loud calls for it to be eliminated, by force if necessary. Government, fattened by the many iterations of Taxes, becomes powerful enough to insist on this.
Government deduces the only way to shrink the disparity is by resorting to community of property, where all share equally in the wealth—except for a small class of necessary leaders. This happy phrase convinces the majority, and away we go into communism once again.
This negative (from our point of view; from the regime’s, it’s positive) feedback cycle is exactly what happened when England first created its Poor Laws. From Benevolence (emphasis original):
[T]o the immense puzzlement of almost everyone, it was found that the proportion of the population receiving money under the [Poor] laws (and consequently, of course, the burden of those who paid the tax) always increased. [p. 46]
[For this proof all] that Malthus actually assumed were certain elements of human psychology, as past experience has disclosed them to be. Namely, he assumed an instinct of hunger in all; a sexual instinct in virtually all; a plentiful supply of laziness in the vast majority; and no shortage anywhere of selfishness, stupidity, or short-sightedness. There is, indeed, no rational way to proceed, as Malthus himself says, except on the assumption that human beings will be what past experience has uniformly shown them to have been.
The history of the Twentieth Century is known well enough. So why haven’t we yet (again) “spun down” into the depths? (This question was asked in 2014.) Because new forms of wealth created by advancing technology have propped up the system, enriching many and forestalling outright decline. Stove credits gasoline and electricity. Our age has its own amazements, but just think how long it took the Government to reach in and grab (i.e. “regulate”) the Internet, a process still unfolding.
Technology can also hurt: machines are slowly replacing workers at the bottom of the scale, and now some in the middle. It is only a matter of faith, and a hope against the evidence of human history, that “progress” leads only to improvement. Change is not always that which we can believe in.
The poor cannot be ignored. And Government intervention exacerbates the problem it seeks to cure. So what is the Solution? Well, the (old) Christian one, which is to say, private, preferably local, charity. Individuals (or groups of them) undirected by Government can choose how much and when to give. They know better than Government just how much charity they can bear and where it is best placed, and when they give they are unlikely to sink into poverty.
This approach strengthens rather than weakens families, and families are a strong defense against poverty—and against Government. Forcing somebody to “donate” is not charity, a logical fact socialist clergy members should recall. Yet with the disappearance of the family and retreat of religion, all people see is Government.
Inflation Reduction Act, anyone?
Buy my new book and learn to argue against the regime: Everything You Believe Is Wrong.