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Bill Kennedy: Unintended consequences

Right Here, Right Now

Posted: August 27, 2009 9:24 p.m.
Updated: August 28, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Frobisher Bay, Canada, just south of the Arctic Circle on Baffin Island, November 1982: My wife and I were standing on hard-packed snow in frigid weather beside the aircraft that had just deposited our party of some 50 international delegates sent to get a view of the unintended consequences of socialism run amok.

The relative isolation and small size of this community of 1,000 native North Americans made it an ideal subject of social studies for our group.

Originally, the area was populated by Inuit, native North Americans often mistakenly referred to as Eskimos. Then, in the 1950s, hundreds of U.S. and Canadian military personnel and construction workers descended on the area to build the DEW (Distant Early Warning) line, a system of radar stations designed during the Cold War to protect North America from a surprise attack by Soviet bombers.

Initially, the project created many high-paying local jobs. Additionally, the medical-services facilities established there to serve the U.S. and Canadian forces were opened to the locals for free as a gesture of community outreach.

But the benefits were short-lived. By 1959, construction was essentially complete, reducing job opportunities, and by 1963, the U.S. military left, closing the medical facilities. To fill the gap, the Canadian government established permanent services at Frobisher Bay, including full-time doctors, schools and social services, and encouraged the nearby Inuit population to settle using the free government services.

The usual habitats of the Inuit were chosen for their proximity to fishing and hunting grounds.

However, easy access to such areas was not afforded from the government locales. The Canadian Parliament's remedy was give each able-bodied Inuit male a snowmobile to assist their hunts. The government also awarded them hunting rifles and ammunition to replace their traditional spears.

In another move, the Canadian Parliament entitled every adult male to a free case of Canadian ale each month for life. Finally, the government granted a free college education to any Inuit capable of passing an entrance examination.

The justification was that the Inuit who completed their college degrees would return to Frobisher to establish their own health clinics, job-forming businesses, schools and the like.

This is the background that greeted our delegation in 1982, there to examine the effects of a generation of well-intentioned socialist policies.

What we found was profoundly disturbing. The most popular places in town were pool halls and bars, heavily populated nearly all day long by the local males. Listless, drunken stares replaced what had once been the bright eyes of proud hunters and home providers.

"This is a worrisome problem," explained the mayor, "and our welfare rolls are growing."

The troubles started with the free snowmobiles and rifles. The hunting chore that once kept the men occupied full time could now be accomplished with only a few hours work per week. To fill idle hours, the men turned to beer parties, compliments of the government handout, leading to a high rate of alcoholism and, later, drug addiction.

"What about the expected benefits of the college-degree program?" we asked.

"We send our best and brightest away to get their degrees, but rather than return to this humble place, they settle in places like Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver to pursue much higher ambitions," he replied. "We have lost a large number of our leaders."

Thus, in just one short generation, a socialist program implemented by well-intentioned believers managed to destroy a once-proud culture, which is probably why Canada granted local rule to the area and renamed Frobisher Bay to "Iqaluit," its traditional Inuit calling, in 1987.

Something to think about when considering the many socialist programs proposed by our current administration. Although the circumstances of our needs and the Inuit are fundamentally different, the lesson of their experience is constructive: The architects of their social programs failed to realize that it is the unlimited reach of the human spirit that makes a culture sustainable and an economy viable, and excessive government handouts serve only to squash the human spirit while piling up massive debt.

That is why I am proud to be a member of the Republican party, which places a premium on human enterprise over government interference. We don't need more government handouts. We need programs designed to give more freedom for individual ingenuity and the human spirit to soar.

Bill Kennedy lives in Valencia and is a principal in Wingspan Business Consulting. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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