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Noah Smith

Does the Social Safety Net Make Us Lazy?

Do social-welfare programs make us complacent or confident enough to take new risks, such as starting a business.
A new business in the making.

A new business in the making.

Photographer: Sri Maiava Rusden

There’s an eternal debate about how government can best help people when they aren't doing well economically.

One side says that if government provides you with a safety net, you will become lax and complacent, and you won’t try as hard. Only the threat of the yawning abyss, the thinking goes, will galvanize you to get off your butt and give it your all. For example, during the 2012 election campaign vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said: