The argument that welfare programs create “dependency” is a popular conservative response to proposals to help poor people. It’s also one I’m not (surprise) very moved by.
First things first, there’s a real practical problem with it. Let’s dissect what it really means: when conservatives say that welfare programs cause “dependency”, what they mean is that it causes poor people to become dependent upon the government to live.
With all of the terms made explicit, the problems become clear. As Liam Murphy and Thomas Nagel point out in The Myth of Ownership: Taxes and Justice, governments are distributional institutions. That is to say, governments are responsible for all distributions of all property and wealth, because without governments, there is zero enforcement of the laws that construct the state of “ownership.” Ownership is not a relationship between people and objects, after all; your land has no idea you “own” it. It’s a relationship between people — it’s only that other people behave differently toward land designated as “yours” that causes it to be distinct from all other land, and it’s only that the government causes it’s courts and police to do the same that confirms that.
Thus everyone is “dependent” upon the government to construct their allotment of wealth. The objects conservatives own are not distinct in this way. They depend upon the government to enforce a certain set of rules that govern relationships with other people and authorize particular forms of violence to protect their wealth. If the government stopped enforcing, say, contracts or trespassing laws tomorrow, conservatives who oppose welfare programs would be in much the same position that poor people are today: looking to the government to create some kind of justice for them so they can go on living.
In other words, the dependency of poor people and the dependency of rich people on government to go on living doesn’t really differ. So we know that the conservative argument here is not a practical argument in that the impacts they predict already exist, even if we take them at face values.