Government Can’t Save You from Compound Stupidity


Don’t ask me why, but lately I’ve been imbibing on a lot of British cultural decline via YouTube. Here are links to some of the documentaries I have watched.

The Truth about Payday Loans

Don’t Cap My Benefits

Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole

On Benefits and Proud!

BBC Growing Up Poor

If you get a chance, watch a few. I think you’ll find them very instructive. For instance, the Brits afflicted with the yoke of poverty all appear to have very similar behaviors and attitudes. I’ve put those behaviors and attitudes in the table below to help with our discussion.

Behavior/AttitudeExhibits Behavior/Attitude
Uses body as a canvass (i.e., gets a lot of tattoos)Yes
Uses body as a pinchusion (i.e., gets a lot of piercings)Yes
Procreates out of wedlockYes
Has a fondness for drugs and alcoholYes
Has a fondness for educationNo
Has a skill valued in the labor marketNo
Takes responsibility for his or her plightNo
Uses the teachings of the social sciences to rationalize his or her destructive behaviorYes
Feels it's the government's responsibility to fix his or her problemsYes

Now a question. Are you surprised that people who have embraced the above behaviors and attitudes have a hard time fending for themselves? I’m not. In fact, I would be flabbergasted if it weren’t the case. What society on earth has the means and patience to shower an endless supply of treasure upon its chronically misguided sons and daughters?

Exhibiting the above behaviors and attitudes does not make one a bad person. You’re not a loser if you smoke. You’re not evil if you have a baby out of wedlock. But you’re certainly not the sharpest tool in the shed either. Exhibiting the bulk of these behaviors and attitudes over many years is a recipe for economic and social ruin.

Remember too that Great Britain has a slightly more advanced welfare state than we do. According to the OECD, government spending in Great Britain is 44.9% of GDP. Government spending is 38.8% of GDP over here. And we spend a lot more on the military than the Brits do. Yet despite a significant advantage in social spending, Great Britain is no better than we are at eradicating poverty.

Again, I have nothing but sympathy for those down and out. But I’m not going to sugarcoat things. The simple fact of the matter is this: the government can’t fix compound stupidity. If you do a lot of stupid things over many, many years, you will have a very tough life. And the odds of you dying miserable and broke will be distressingly high.


Final Thoughts

Those who think the government can fix compound stupidity are on the rise. So we will be more European in the future. The rich will pay more in taxes, the welfare state will grow. We will eventually have single-payer healthcare or Medicare for all, and college will surely be “free.” But will things be any better? Will someone who spent his entire life smoking pot and skipping school suddenly become an academic powerhouse in college because it’s free? I don’t see it happening. In my mind, habits are destiny.

Okay, groovy freedomists, that’s my rant for this week. What say you? Am I totally off base? Can the government fix compound stupidity? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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  1. Whoa. I’m not even sure where to start. However, I will say that outside of the issues of welfare and politics, compound stupidity can only be balanced with simple knowledge. Acquisition of knowledge comes in many forms; education being the most obvious. If we want to “fix” stupidity, I vote to “fix” what is considered an education in our first-world classrooms. Remember classes like “shop” and “home ec” and “music” and “business” and “typing” and “speech”? I do. What happened to preparing our children for adult life by providing life skills? I’m not going to even speculate on who should flip the bill, just that stupidity is both a nature and a nurture issue.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Oh, god, I love the way your mind works, Erica. This is what kills me about K-12 education. We literally spend over $100K per student to provide 13 years of schooling, and very few of our high school graduates have any discernible skills to show for that investment. If I were in charge of education in this country, I would want our high school students to emerge from school with just three things. An eighth-grade mathematical ability, an eighth-grade reading ability, and one concrete skill they can each bring to the labor market. And by concrete skill, I mean a skill that can command more than the minimum wage. There’s no reason why our high school students can’t graduate with journeyman plumbing, electrical, or carpentry skills. Or how about a Microsoft certification in programming or database management? Or how about knowing how to install a residential solar system? The possibilities are endless if we’re willing to challenge the status quo. Sigh. As Seth Godin has said, our schools are creating cogs for a world that no longer wants cogs. Thanks for stopping by, LITB. You never fail to bring a smile to my face and make me think. Bravo.

  2. Right on MrGroovy, I agree wholeheartedly.

    Nothing will change with these people unless they somehow start taking responsibility for themselves. You could give them $1 million dollars or British pounds and they (almost assuredly) will waste it and might even be worse off for it.

    By continuing to give these types of people money you only ensure two things: 1: they will continue to breed and 2: the money and time used to try and help them is wasted and not used to the benefit of humanity.

    I believe there is a term for this way of thinking, having an external locus of control. Externals believe that they are the victims of circumstances and fate. If they go to bed drunk and with a lit cigarette which causes their house to burn down, well that is just an example of their bad luck, not their poor decisions and bad habits.

    Can government fix stupidity? Nope, they only increase it in the world. If the government taxes things it wants to reduce, like smoking – what do you think happens when certain other activities are given free money?

    Anyways, this is just the libertarian in me talking.

    • Mr. Groovy

      So true. Whatever you subsidize you get more of. We subsidize poverty on two fronts. First, in the form of welfare, and, second, in the form of lies. “It’s not your fault you’re poor. Sure, you had two kids in high school and don’t have any worthwhile skills. But if it were’t for our racist, sexist, homophobic country, you’d be upper middle class.” Aaarrrggghhh! It’s so frustrating. And I’m afraid it’s only going to get worse. Thanks for stopping by, Mr. DoublingDollars. It’s so great to hear from a fellow libertarian. There are so few us left.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Mr. FS. Nice! I think at least half the country failed to get the memo that government spending doesn’t fix a broken culture. Oh, well. We’ll eventually feel “the bern,” whether with Bernie or some future Bernie. And then when our socialist experiment collapses, just as Cuba’s, Russia’s, and Venezuela’s have done, we’ll all be shocked. And our vaunted elite will come up with a good scapegoat for us to eliminate or send to a re-education camp. Should be a lot of fun.

  3. I’m a glutton for documentaries, always searching out new ones. In fact, I believe I’ve seen each on your list. A great conversation here with a lot of passion. Good stuff, my friend.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Haha! I knew we were kindred spirits. Love it. And thanks for the link to the Erica Meister essay. Once I read it, I’ll chime in. Always a pleasure, my friend.

  4. Hey Mr Groovy,

    I like that you have brought it up, it’s a good thing to consider and a good discussion. I come from Australia (which has a similar set up to Canada and a lot of European countries), but I know a lot about the UK.

    Firstly, not everyone on ‘benefits’ will have the ‘waster lifestyle’ of drugs, cigarettes etc. Of course there is a number of people that are, but (I haven’t watched the videos yet I’m assuming all are wasters) not everyone is like that. I’ve no idea what the breakdown of good / bad people is so I won’t bother guessing.
    My immediate suggest to all Governments that provide welfare is to give money-stamps that can only be used at a select few places, for a select few services. Accommodation, food, drinks (non-alcoholic), transportation, bills etc. This would stop welfare being spent on ‘sin products’. I’d also limit to that country, so Australian welfare can only be spent in Australia.

    Anyway, to the premise of your article. I agree that welfare does not appear to fix anything for this individual’s lives. I am happy to pay a little more tax to have the safety net there for me and my family.

    My main defence of welfare to you, would be – What would happen if these people weren’t looked after?

    These people might resort to robbing crime more easily – if they aren’t provided for, they will steal it instead. I’m quite sure that compared to 200 years ago, robberies would be dramatically less. Of course It sucks they would resort to crime. However, think – the Govt would have to pay a lot more in policing, courts and judges/court rooms if there were a lot more robberies. So I’d like to think the Govt has replaced Police & Justice expenditure with welfare expenditure. Overall the population is happier, even if it seems like a ‘waste’.

    There would be a high chance some areas might be more like ‘ghettos’ than they are now. Utter poverty seems to be much rarer if all its residents are provided. I’d like to think there are many less no-go places (or wouldn’t-want-to-go places) in Australia than the US.

    More homeless. If people can’t pay their bills, they’re homeless. I’d prefer to pay a little more, so that ‘no-one gets left behind’ and everyone gets a fair go, rather than a cutthroat situation.

    It spreads the money around – Rich people (choose your definition of rich) tend to hoard money, poor people spend more of it. They could learn a lot from the FI community, but by spending the money it gets spread around the economy many more times than being hoarded. (By spread I mean when we buy something from Aldi, they pay their wages and suppliers, who use that money to buy other things, then those people buy other things etc etc). $10 spent could result in $50 in total being passed around.

    I definitely see where you’re coming from Mr Groovy, it’s interesting to think about. But I think welfare does ‘save’, and create, in other ways.

    The rich people and middle people do not need so much welfare. I’m not sure where you draw the line, but taxing the rich to give it back to them (whilst complaining about being taxed) seems like a poor setup.


    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, DDU. I’m shocked! I thought everything was perfect down under. Totally agree with you. We definitely need a safety net. And since the US and Australia are both wealthy nations, there’s no excuse for not having one. But here’s my concern. Everything touched by government is corrupted. Therefore everything the government does is a threat to my liberty. So I don’t believe in giving the government a blank check. Think about the military. Yes, defense is important. But I don’t want to be a slave to the military-industrial complex. The same thing applies to the safety net. Yes, welfare is important. But I don’t want to be a slave to the compassion-industrial complex. One way to protect my liberty and have a safety net is to get out of the entitlement mindset. No one is entitled to anything. Rather, you’re entitled to a share. If the government sets aside, say, $40 billion for food stamps, and there are 4 million people eligible for food stamps, then each food stamp recipient is entitled to 1/4,000,000 of $40 billion or $10,000 in food stamps. If the number of eligible food stamp recipients climbs to 5 million people, then each food stamp recipient is now entitled to 1/5,000,000 of $40 billion or $8,000 in food stamps. Again, I’m not a cold-hearted wretch. I just don’t see how I can remain free if the government has an unlimited right to my income and wealth. And I see no reason to surrender my liberty just because more and more of my fellow countrymen have embraced (or inherited) a subprime culture. I hope this makes sense. Thanks for sharing your views, DDU. You make a lot of valid points.

  5. So this is coming purely from my professional capacity as a Public Defender in the US, but I think the biggest problem isn’t that welfare exists, but that it’s often going to the wrong people. I have so many clients who, due to a mistake they’ll oft admit to, are no longer eligible for benefits, and neither are their families. They exist in this quasi-world of multiple generations living in one tiny apt., their kids go to the worst schools, often only 1 parent is out of jail at a time, and these families do all they can to stay out.

    But the truth is, being poor is a crime in this country. If you get one traffic ticket, the court costs and fees will be around $200, with 18% interest if you need to use a payment plan. If you miss a payment the DMV suspends your license, the police know about it, and then you constantly get pulled over for driving with a suspended license. That’s a class 1 misdemeanor in most places and can and will net you months of jail time. While in jail, you accrue more court cost and finest, plus the jail charges a daily fee for you being there. For many, it’s a daily choice to break the law because our transit system sucks, and they need to be able to get to their 2-3 part time jobs in a timely manner so they choose to drive. Their kids see that there’s no reward in trying to do the right thing, all their friends drop out in 10th vrade, and thus begins the same cycle. I’ve also had clients who tell me they can’t get married because they don’t have money for the marriage certificate.

    Meanwhile, I have a perfectly lower middle-class client, who fudged his income to qualify for his court appointed attorney, charged with a DUI (has priors) and receives both disability and some other services for what can best be described as the disability of being an overweight alcoholic who mooches off his mother. He has some college as well. Any guess as to which type of client complains the whole time that he’s not receiving proper counsel to?

    The rules for benefits in the US are made such that certain people (read minorities and immigrants) can’t get them or must be perfect to do so, but white people can usually just pay a fine and qualify, or they are labeled with a disability they don’t even need treatment or monitoring for and suddenly qualify.

    The myth that poor people have babies to make more welfare money is simply untrue and has been debunked so many times in the US, yet persists. But no one talks about how the people who actually need and would use welfare as a temporary crutch to break this cycle frequently don’t qualify for it. And that just leads to a new generation of kids who can’t get ahead either, because they grew up hungry and homeless in broken homes with few people to look up to, let alone emulate. And they have no idea how to step out of that even if they wanted to.

    If I were in charge, I would definitely expand welfare programs, but I would change other things as well. I would incentize GEDs and technical schools, give rewards to families who complete certain tasks, create a sliding scale for ct and fines, eliminate the interest on gov fees like that, and require districts operate night court so working defendants don’t risk being fired trying to go to their court date to name a few.

    Sorry for ranting as an answer to your rant. 🙂 It’s obviously a problem that it would be nice if we could fix.

    • Mr. Groovy

      No worries, DID. Rants are perfectly welcomed here. We’re all friends. Thank you for your perspective. You’re on the front lines and we need to hear what your clients face. I’m to the right of Attila the Hun politically, but you’d be surprised how much common ground there is between us. For starters, most of the welfare in this country goes to the middle and upper classes. If we’re ever going to change our culture of dependency, we got to start eliminating the subsidies there. Second, I’ve always been miffed at the size of traffic fines. About a year ago, I was in Texas on business and I got a ticket for not wearing my seat belt. And I was in the back seat! My coworker who was driving was unaware that wearing seat belts was required for backseat passengers. Know what the fine was? One hundred and forty-five bucks! Where is the Eighth Amendment when you need it? Fortunately, Mrs. Groovy and I can handle a $145 fine. But to a poor person, that fine would be devastating. Are you familiar with the book called On the Run by Alice Goffman? It’s a fascinating read about the very issues you raised. As far as fixing the problems of our underclass? I only see one answer. People in general, but poor people in particular, got to learn worthwhile skills and delay childbearing. It’s as simple as that. But we don’t have the political will to transmit that message. We tell children it’s stupid to smoke cigarettes. But we won’t tell them it’s stupid to drop out of high school and procreate foolishly.

    • ” … being poor is a crime in this country.” Indeed. While a lot of people, poor and otherwise, make bad decisions at times, the less well-to-do pay an inordinate price for their transgressions/mistakes and get further entrenched into a system that keeps them locked into place.

      As a senior [Erica Meister] essayist notes in a piece in The New York Times, “We’re from Northville. Most of us know nothing of consequences or responsibility for our actions, because our fathers can cover for us with cash and connections.”

      I highly recommend her essay as well as the other three selected winners …

  6. It’s kind of funny how we refer to some people figure out the many ways to get the most from government aid and welfare as the “stupid” ones. Yet it’s the “smart” people who struggle every day and work long hours under a lot of stress. Government aid and welfare is a necessary blessing for those who are simply unable to help themselves or find themselves in a desperate situation. But often these people have learned to game the system and are satisfied with being supported by the government. Britannia once ruled the waves and had a huge empire, but no longer. I wonder sometimes if America is destined for a similar fate.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Gary. Sadly, I couldn’t agree with you more. If you asked me what America will lead the world in fifty years from now, science or porn, I’d have to go with porn. We’re becoming that pathetic.

  7. Well if college is “free” in the future then universities will make stringent requirements.

    My parents went to university for “free” in the 70’s in Russia and the Russian government made their requirements really stringent because so many Russians wanted to get degrees.

    I’ve watched a couple of ones you recommended this morning, they are interesting, I’d like to get to watch the other ones later on. 🙂

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Jaime. The New York City university system (CUNY) used to be free as well. But that was when the number of college students were few. Now anyone with a pulse is college material. And there’s absolutely no political will for stringent requirements. Heaven forbid! That would be UNFAIR. It might even make income inequality worse. So I’m right there with you, Jaime. But our tribe is greatly outnumbered by the SJW tribe. Thanks for stopping by. Let me know what you think of the other videos when you get a chance.

    • University and engineering schools ( ) are free in France, and from my personal experience, is of high quality. Probably not as high on average as the prestigious US schools, but given the differences in price ($0 compared to…. how much is a year at harvard? $30’000?) I am not sure the value is here.

      I studied in France and today I make a 6 figures salary working in the US for a big tech company here. I probably won’t be the next Bill Gates or Mark Zukerberg, but then again what are the odds of that after paying $30’000 a year of tuition in the US? Looks more like gambling than investing to me.

      Entrance into engineering schools in France is based on exams, students are ranked based on exam scores and the highest ranked students get to choose the most prestigious schools. Sounds very fair to me.

      Of course “free” is a myth, it is all paid by taxes.

      With all that being said, I love the concept of “compound stupidity”. I like the idea that a few mistakes in your lifetime are not a problem, but consistently making the wrong choices for no good reason is a recipe for failure.

      • Mr. Groovy

        Stockbeard, I knew there was a reason I liked you! Way to go on finding a reasonably priced education. Hopefully more Americans will wise up and look outside the country for the things that are grossly overpriced here (e.g., college, healthcare). What gets me are the people who pay $100K for a sociology degree. Talk about compound stupidity.

  8. Governments aren’t designed to fix stupid, and they shouldn’t be because everybody’s definition of what’s “stupid” is different. Governments were designed to protect people’s most basic human rights – nothing more, nothing less. Of course, this fairly narrow responsibility has now been buried underneath piles of expensive pet projects, authorities and influences that our political class has cleverly built – under the not-so-watchful eye of the American people – for themselves as to solidify their own power over the people.

    One cursory glance at our national debt should clearly indicate WHY governments cannot, and should not, accept the responsibility of supposedly “fixing stupid”. 🙂

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Steve. Didn’t you get the memo that the 10th Amendment to the Constitution is dead? Yeah, in the memo I got, it states that the political majority can do whatever the flip it wants, and I, along with all the other sorry people, have a constitutional right to live off the 1 percent. So those are the new rules. Do they suck? Absolutely. But the cool people say otherwise. And you know the cool people are never wrong. But if by chance they are, and it turns out we can’t do socialism better than the Cubans, the Russians, and the North Koreans, I like what you got going on. You’ll just break out the popcorn, relax in your RV, and enjoy the show–er, I mean, the collapse. Perhaps Mrs. Groovy and I will even join you. Cheers, my friend.

  9. No the Government can’t fix stupid. There are some people who are just stupid and lazy and will always be that way. Can we lower those welfare numbers? Yes. I believe we need a shift in the way we are teaching our children in our school systems. We need to stop teaching them things they will not use in their adult lives and focus more on things they will uses, like job skills, team work, financial literacy, etc.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Amen, brother. You’re preaching to the choir. Our schools and entertainment industry do a great job of turning our young people into mindless consumerists who possess dubious skills and are completely at ease with omnipotent government. There’s a word for what our young people are becoming–slaves. And they don’t even see it coming. Sad. Tragic. Appalling.

  10. I’ve been thinking a lot about housing lately. I have more homeless students than ever, and I teach in a pretty affluent city. A house down the street went up for sale for over $2 million last year. But we also have had a big influx of families coming in from Chicago proper, so there is quite a bit of subsidized housing in the same city.

    The government spends a lot of money subsidizing housing. But the government actually spends way more money providing welfare/benefits to the middle class in terms of the break most of us get for interest on our mortgages. While we may have some work to do with our welfare system, I also don’t know that I want anyone taking that particular benefit away from me. Planet Money just did a really interesting (and short!) podcast on the topic of housing. If you get a chance to listen, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Penny. Is the name of the episode, “The Long Way Home”? If it is, I’m listening to it now. Philosophically, I’m opposed to subsidies. I think they distort the market (suppliers get to charge more), and I think they reinforce destructive behavior (sloth, over-consumption, irresponsible procreation, etc.). But I don’t think they should be ended overnight. We’re too culturally weak right now to stand on our own. If I were the Grand Poobah of the United States, then, I would begin by phasing out the subsidies for the upper class. Then I would gradually phase out the subsidies to the middle class. For instance, I would cap the mortgage interest deduction at $10K. Then I would reduce that cap $1,000 a year until it was done. I wouldn’t think of tackling subsidies for the poor until middle-class and upper-class subsidies were eliminated or under control. I know this may seem heartless, but what’s going on right now in Greece and Puerto Rico is pretty sobering. We can’t leave beyond our means forever. To do so, would be even more heartless.

      • Yes, that’s the one! I don’t think it’s heartless. I’m really interested in conversation. I love to hear everyone’s ideas. I’m a firm believe that if enough people engaged in discussions, we’ll find real solutions! There’s another podcast on Puerto Rico — I think it’s Planet Money (but could be Freakonomics radio) — that was so captivating!

        I think subsidies are cyclical, but I’m not sure they’re the problem. They’re a band-aid slapped on a problem that probably exacerbate it long term. If you’re born into that cycle, what incentive do you have to step outside of it? How are you supposed to know to step outside of it if it’s all you’ve ever known? There’s a major awareness issue and also an empathy piece that’s lacking. (Speaking broadly about the issues, not your post!)

        • Mr. Groovy

          Thank you, Penny, for understanding. I have to remind myself that I’m now swimming in the personal finance pond. People in this pond talk to each other. And they exchange ideas without hurling insults. I used to swim in the political pond. There, people weren’t just wrong. In the eyes of their ideological foes, they were evil scum! So bare with me if I get a little defensive now and then. With that said, great point. How does one step outside one’s culture/environment if that’s all one knows? Tough question. I have a lot of thoughts swirling around in my head right now. Would you consider me a wuss if I asked for a little time to ruminate on the matter?