The Dangers of Direct Checks From the Government

March 16, 2021 Updated: March 21, 2021

Commentary

Believe it or not, before the coronavirus pandemic the U.S. government had never sent money directly to citizens. Not during the Great Depression. Not during the awful Spanish Flu pandemic. Never.

During the 2001 and 2007–09 economic crises, the Bush and Obama administrations issued tax rebate checks or tax credits, not direct checks to all Americans making less than a certain income.

My, how things have changed. Over the past year, the U.S. government has sent out three waves of direct checks to the vast majority of Americans. So far, most Americans (89 percent of adults according to the Tax Foundation) will have received up to $3,200 in “free money” from Uncle Sam.

There are many reasons this could be very dangerous to the future of the republic.

First, it’s akin to buying votes. Now that the precedent has been set and Americans realize that politicians are willing and able to send them money, we’re almost assured that in the future politicians will run on the promise of “free money.”

In fact, we’re already seeing this take place. Many on the far left are calling for recurring direct checks.

After the CARES Act was passed in early 2020, which included $1,200 direct checks, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) released a statement calling for monthly $2,000 checks. According to Khanna, “A one-time, twelve-hundred-dollar check isn’t going to cut it. Americans need sustained cash infusions for the duration of this crisis.”

Khanna is not the only progressive advocating for recurring “cash infusions.” Many more, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have joined the chorus as well.

Second, sending direct checks disincentivizes work. One of the most unfortunate aspects of the federal government’s “free money” response to the pandemic is that it sends a clear message to Americans: Don’t worry about working, the government will take care of you.

In truth, there’s no replacement for work. Getting people acclimated to “free money” from the government will only worsen America’s acute case of government dependence.

Third, the notion of “free money” is a farce. Counter to the claims made by progressives that the three rounds of direct checks is “free money,” there’s no so such thing. One way or another, future generations will foot the bill for the budget blowout that the direct checks and other so-called COVID-19 relief measures will add to the $28 trillion U.S. national debt.

Whether it be through inflation or stagnant GDP growth from all the “free money” doled out, the bill will eventually have to be paid.

Fourth, the direct checks were sent to Americans making less than $75,000. In other words, this is arguably the new era of wealth redistribution in America. In the past, wealth redistribution in the United States was much more indirect. People could apply for a plethora of benefits, yes, but there was at least a modicum of effort to ensure those people needed, and did not abuse, the social safety net system.

The sending of cash to all Americans under a certain income threshold completely upends that system and begins a whole new chapter in the land of the free, where people will likely expect “cash infusions” simply because they are “entitled” to it.

Fifth, and finally, the sending of direct checks could, in and of itself, herald the end of the republic as we know it. As Alexander Tytler, an 18th century historian, is said to have opined long ago, “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.”

If Tytler is right, and judging by history, he is, we could be entering the economic era of no return. On the other hand, it may not be too late. If Americans wake up to the fact that “free money” from the government is a devil’s bargain, a Faustian choice, we the people could push the pendulum back toward freedom and personal responsibility. It really is up to us.

Chris Talgo is senior editor at The Heartland Institute.

Update: This article has been updated to clarify that previous stimulus packages did provide tax rebate checks and/or direct payments to targeted groups, but not direct checks to all Americans.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.