What to do with losers?

This originally came up in regards to welfare, although the question can be applied more broadly. Let’s say that you make allowance for the genuinely physically and mentally handicapped. Let’s say further that you weed out the truly lazy- that is, those who hate working but who will work if they have no other choice. The problem is that then there is still a residual group whom I will informally call “the screwed up”: the people who won’t, or can’t, get their lives in order. A stern moral lecture on responsibility does them no good at all; give them a swift kick in the pants and all it does is make them fall down. The sad part is, more often than not it seems like they DO make some attempts to improve their lives- pathetic, inept, half-assed attempts which virtually always fail because of their self-sabotage. So what do you do with these losers? Do you punish them forever, hoping if you just put them under enough pressure they’ll straighten up and fly right? (Despite the fact that that’s never worked in their entire lives?) Do you let them perish, or do you enable them?

Not sure I understan the question. On a societal level, I don’t think the government should have any kind of loser support program. If individuals or charities want to help losers then yay for them.

I would say such people probably suffer from some kind of mental disorder(s). While I do think there are some people who are fuck-ups for no good reason, I think the vast majority are the product of bad home lives, chemical imbalances, and unresolved emotional trauma. They are just never diagnosed with anything. Sadly, once they are adults they’re probably too forgone to be helped.

Mind you, I don’t think having a mental disorder means you have no personal responsibility. And I don’t think “losers” should be put up in fancy housing with all the amenities. But I do think there should be a basic safety net provided for everyone, since we’re all at risk for loserdom. Society also benefits when its losers are cared for, since these people tend to spread their suffering around through crime, public nuisance, and by burdening family members.

We have safety nets like unemployment insurance. But why should the lazy fuckups of the world receive any special benefits just bcause they don’t feel like working?

A lot of these people are willing to work, but they would need makework pity jobs designed for people no private employer would put up with; the person who shows up for work two days out of three for example. And some form of dirt cheap bed-and-a-toilet shelter for those whom the rent on a one bedroom apartment is too ambitious.

Give them hope.

Stop kicking them long enough for them to find their balance.

Let up on the pressure, and give them room to breathe.

Reward works better than punishment.

Learn the difference between enabling and empowering.

Look them in the eye, tell them you have faith that they’ll figure it out for themselves, and believe it. Eventually, so will they.

This is why I was questioning the level of the discussion. This is what a parent of a loser should do but not the government.

This doesn’t always work for everyone, though. The trouble is that there aren’t clearly demarcated categories like “physically disabled from being self-supporting”, “mentally disabled from being self-supporting”, “just plain lazy”, “temporarily troubled but can work it out”, “needs job retraining but will do fine after that”, “hopelessly addicted and self-destructive”, etc.

Many people who have serious problems coping with life don’t fall into one or another neat category defining their problems. Many people need a mixture of support, independence, and responsibility, and it’s hard to design a one-size-fits-all program to provide that.

I think if we’re going to have any one-size-fits-all solution, it should be (1) a universal minimal safety net, composed of a combination of public and private support; and (2) a universal set of incentives and opportunities for productive work. The top priority should be trying to ensure that nobody actually goes hungry or unsheltered or untreated. The next priority should be trying to ensure that everybody who’s at all able to support themselves by working has incentives for trying to do so, and opportunities of employment.

Yup. Some of those people would gradually get the habit of work, develop their capabilities and self-confidence, and go on to be able to hold a more productive job in the real employment sector. Some might always depend on makework pity jobs and a supplementary safety net to help them meet their basic needs. But that’s still better than either leaving them to starve or just throwing support at them and not expecting them to do anything at all for themselves.

They were also losers. So now who?

People I know that are getting some sort of social assistance are in a bad situation. The more they work, the more they have to pay for the assisted housing they live in. One girl went from part time to full time employment and her assisted rent payments went from $300 to $800. This is somebody that’s now making about $1,000 a month. The more assets they have, the less government money they get. Money in the bank and savings accounts are a no-no. The more kids they have, the more government money and food they get.

So basically I see these social assistance programs as encouraging people to be poor, lazy, and have lots of kids.

As to the question of what to do with the losers, I suppose we should support them in a minimal way, but there should be incentives to get your life in order instead of payments to stay poor with a bunch of kids.

Yes, this is a big problem. There are a number of these involuntary “reverse incentives” at the transitional levels of support, where people who are hovering around the borderline between needing income support and being able to make it on their own find that increasing their income actually makes them poorer because their benefits start to taper off. What rational person is going to want that?

This is definitely a design flaw in the program: people should not be penalized for becoming more self-supporting and independent. It’s not easy to set things up so that people can get weaned off of public support onto earned income without ever actually losing net income in the process, but it seems as though it ought to be doable.

If the government ever looks me in the eye, I am going to start seriously freaking out.

I do not know what to do with losers. I can’t find mine.

Well, we don’t call them losers, for one. I wish that term would die, frankly. It’s hateful and mean spirited. We’ve all been “losers” at some point or another in our lives.

We don’t label them, marginalize them, or come up with excuses to give up on them. We treat them as individuals and give them every opportunity to better themselves. We don’t punish all because a handful exploit the system and are beyond redemption.

A lot of people we call losers are probably mentally ill, and need help in order to find a good fit into a social system that wasn’t really designed with them in mind.

A lot of them are just young and haven’t found a place for themselves yet. We are all permitted a few years of aimless slackerdom in our youth, right? Or do we all have to be peppy capitalist worker bees the moment we pop out of the womb?

A lot of the people we call losers have not had the greatest upbringing or opportunities in life, and they’ve understandably given up on a system that seems to turn a blind eye to their hardships. We need to make the system as inclusive as possible, so these people don’t fall through the cracks.

Big Brother loves you.

Seriously though, Rand Rover makes a good point, in that my advice applies better for a parent (or a friend, or neighbor, or even coworkers and employees to a certain extent) than it does for a governmental body.

What can or should the government do? I suppose it depends a lot on how strongly we want our government to support social programs. In my view, we should continue to have “safety net” style welfare programs, but I would like to see them expanded. More importantly, I would like to see them function smarter than they currently do.

From my limited understanding, the current system is a lot better than it used to be in regards to the problem of reverse incentives, but there’s still much we can do to make the “safety net” into a more inclusive set of “teach them how to fish” programs. We’ve made incredible advances in communications and information technology, systems analysis and theory (relevant to making a program that can be both broadly applied and responsive to individual needs), and learning – these knowledge bases should be applied to our approach to welfare and employment programs.

I like sovtawen’s perspective. Along those lines, I would like to see our system be less stigmatizing and disenfranchising, and become more inclusive, flexible, and oriented towards opening up options for people in need. Create an environment, where possible, in which even a “loser” can experience success for their efforts.

And what should a government do? Just let them die?

This is how the Section 8 housing program works (or DID work when I was on it). They review your financial situation yearly and adjust the benefit accordingly. I was on it for a year, and dropped off the program cold turkey after that. Not everyone can do that; particularly older people who go on assistance programs.


Victorian workhouses have a terrible reputation as being prison-like places of slavery and destruction - and not without cause, however, the motive behind many of them - at their institution - was quite often a noble and compassionate one. It just didn’t seem to keep going that way in practice.

With modern standards of control, ethics, rights and accountability, I think we could implement the concept again and get it right this time.

That’s the difference between social safety nets and institutionalized welfare. Safety nets are designed to help people who are temporarily down on their luck through various circumstances - loss of job, illness, injury, etc. There should even be a place for a system that will support those who are unable to work due to an injury or disability. However, if I understand the OP correctly, he is asking what kind of system we should have in place for people who simply don’t want to work, or a normal job just “isn’t for them”. Sorry, but it sounds like juvenile fantasy to me to create what would in a sense be a network of halfway houses, hippie communes and hostels so that people can go “find themselves”.

It is not in the public interest to ignore a persistent underclass who use resources despite best efforts to deny them access. They burden emergency rooms where they show up for primary medical care, they burden public schools with special needs, they often drift into antisocial and criminal behavior. All of these outcomes cost money, so you are paying for them whether you like it or not. Ignoring them is a luxury we cannot afford. If your goal is to not pay for them, you must take some sort of proactive effort to make them productive citizens, or just admit the only alternative is to shoot them in the back of the head. You are paying for them already, one way or another. A little investment now will often pay off in reduced costs later.