Jimmie Rodgers – Hobo Bill’s Last Ride

Rodgers (1897-1933) may have been singing country, before there officially was country music? The “Singing Brakeman,” back in 1929, sang this sad tale of a boxcar riding man who probably froze to death, eastbound, during a storm.

A “hobo” was a term back then referring to people that travelled around taking work where they could. Keep in mind, this song was from Great Depression era times. Finding work was challenging. Even the most resourceful of souls fell on hard times, and gradually, many felt more of a role for government to assist people was required.

What we got from this, was the welfare state: a government-administered collection of services and programs, aimed at helping out those who needed help, without any assignation of blame.

Some sources distinguish “hobo” from “bum,” the latter being someone not that interested in working, even when jobs were available. Both terms are likely considered politically incorrect today. However, a criticism of the welfare state is that it creates dependency on government: that it creates “bums.” And further, that the welfare state reduces not just our self-reliance, but our personal freedom when we are recipients of public services. After all, it’s not so easy to ride the rails from town to town unless the stops all have unemployment offices along the way.

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