When the System Is Sick

Holland is suffering from an ailment of epidemic proportions. It has already caused 300,000 Dutch citizens to go on disability pay. What is this mysterious ailment? Stress. Six percent of Holland's work force has quit because of stress. In a New York Times article, Roger Cohen tells of Hans, a former physics professor who quit work three years ago. "I was suffering from stress because I was so worried about obtaining research money," Hans says. Well, he isn't worried about money anymore: His disability pay is guaranteed until retirement. What's really suffering is the Dutch economy-groaning under the burden of ballooning social welfare programs. And Holland isn't the only country in trouble. Many European nations are discovering that ample benefit programs can undermine the motivation to work. Disability benefits are easily obtained by vague and subjective complaints, like "stress." Unemployment benefits last indefinitely. Free medical care is offered to everyone, regardless of income. There's virtually no penalty for dropping out of the work force. The penalty falls chiefly on those who are productive. All these benefits are paid for by those who stay in the work force-which acts as a disincentive for them. The less money you take home, the less motivation there is to work. Companies are saddled with heavy disincentives as well. Many of the social welfare benefits come out of payroll taxes, sometimes adding as much as 50 percent to the cost of hiring a new worker. As a result, companies hire fewer workers and are unable to expand and grow. No wonder Europe is suffering economic stagnation. It doesn't take a crystal ball to foresee disaster coming, and many countries are finally setting limits to social benefits. Holland has just tightened the rules governing disability benefits. France recently shortened the length of unemployment benefits. Italy has placed limits on free medical care for people with higher incomes. The goal is to reduce the cost of government and get the economy moving again. But ironically, just as European countries are rolling back welfare programs, our own president wants to expand them-with things like a payroll tax for health care and increased unemployment benefits. As Cohen comments, President Clinton is trying to move the United States closer to the European model . . . just as the European model is crumbling. We need to call people back to biblical principles of economics. Economic well-being starts with the fundamental principle of hard work for all who are able-bodied. The apostle Paul wrote, "He who will not work, neither shall he eat." But a burgeoning welfare state undercuts the biblical rule: It says, in effect, "He who will not work can live off the income of those who do." A policy like this will always backfire: It punishes the diligent and rewards the lazy- those who succumb to ailments like "stress." The Bible outlines the moral principles that undergird a strong economy: diligence, thrift, and hard work-with charity limited to the truly needy. Any government whose policies undermine moral character will surely end in economic ruin.


Chuck Colson



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