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Carson on the good old days: "If someone got killed by a bear, everyone took care of their family.”

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Ben Carson harked back to the early days of our republic in describing his vision for a reduced social safety net during a CNN town hall event on Wednesday night — using an interesting anecdote to illustrate his point.

"If someone got killed by a bear, everyone took care of their family," said Carson, a Republican presidential candidate, at the town hall.

The depiction of American life in pre-government times came in response to a question from a voter, who had asked Carson about his position on welfare and subsidies for the poor. (Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner, held a separate forum aired on MSNBC at the same time on Wednesday.)

"In the old days of America, when communities were separated by hundreds of miles, why were they able to thrive? Because if it was harvest time, and a farmer was up in a tree picking apples and fell out and broke his leg, everybody pitched in and harvested his crops," Carson said.

But, Carson said, that system was broken apart by the progressive movement that began in the early 20th century.

"Some strange reason, starting in the 20s with Woodrow Wilson, the government started getting involved with everything," Carson said.

Then, Carson said, Lyndon Johnson made things even worse by expanding government yet again in the 1960s by trying to eliminate poverty.

Then "$19 trillion later, 10 times more people on food stamps, more poverty, more welfare, broken homes, out of wedlock births, crime and incarceration," Carson said. "Everything is not only worse, it's much worse."