What to Do with Free Money? Welfare v. Work Ethic

Last year I wrote to someone getting free money, “An Open Letter to the Welfare Cage: Dear Lucy, Nothing from THEM is ever Free.” Lucy was a woman who seemed both articulate and honest who called into a local conservative radio show. The two hosts were talking about people living off welfare and why anyone would live that way. She replied, If someone is going to give me money to do nothing and get to smoke pot all day, why wouldn’t I take the money? (That’s a paraphrase: you can listen to her for yourself here.)

Money Dollar Bills

I gave a reply that I thought was helpful, but this week I saw a news story that I thought embodied a great reply. It involved a couple from Bethel, Minnesota, who, like Lucy, also got a lot of free money from the government.

ABC News reports:

A Minnesota couple who just won an $11.7 million lottery jackpot say their big plans to use the money include nothing “out of the ordinary,” with the wife even keeping her waitress’ job.

“I actually really enjoy my job,” newly minted multimillionaire Rhonda Meath said of her job waiting tables at the Lake Elmo Inn in Lake Elmo, Minnesota.

“I have great friends here and a great boss, and it’s just really a fantastic place to work, so I have no plans of leaving,” she said.

The lottery not only includes the money but also pays all Federal and State taxes that the winners owe. So the entire $11.7 million is all theirs. They do plan to buy Rhonda a new car, though there is no mention of getting one for her husband, Joe. They also plan to do some charitable giving.

I’m not in favor of buying lottery tickets, so I’m not suggesting anyone use that part of this story as a model for their own behavior. But it is interesting to me that these two people are mostly insisting on living their lives as they did before.

Why are they doing that?

Probably, they realize the money is theirs to use and to misuse. If they misuse it, they will have to bear the cost of such misuse. The money will be gone once it is misspent. So, since they know they have never had such a great responsibility before, they are trying to be careful and continue to live the lives they are accustomed to living. That means she keeps her job and uses the income much as she did before.

They could have her quit working and start smoking pot every day, but that doesn’t seem to have occurred to them. If you asked them about the option, they would probably wonder why anyone would use money to destroy themselves.

People are meant to serve one another, not sit around and consume all the time. This couple seems to get that.

Of course, it helps that they were offered all of the money up front. They weren’t offered a weekly or monthly payment plan on the condition that they stop working. So the temptation they faced was not as great as the temptation of receiving welfare.