Loony Left Liberals See a Little Light

Time magazine discovers that welfare aid harms the recipients.

Scragged often points out the wrong-headedness of liberal media.  We've criticized the New York Times for urging the Colombian government to take the FARC drug dealers into the Colombian government, for example.

Our main issue with the liberal left has nothing to do with geopolitics or international affairs, however.  Our main objection is that liberal ideas generally multiply government employees who chip away at our freedoms.

We've quoted Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as warning us of a "tilt of freedom in the direction of evil ... evidently born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which there is no evil inherent in human nature."  We've shown how bureaucratic government agencies which were supposedly founded with the noblest of motives can lead to bureaucrats knowingly inflicting evil on other people.

As far as we can see, liberal ideas simply do not work.  We've spent trillions of tax dollars fighting poverty, yet the Department of Health and Human Services would have us believe that poor people are worse off than ever and that we need to spend even more.

As Albert Einstein said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."  When what we're doing is not working, it's insane to keep doing it, but liberals tend to want to keep pouring good money after bad.

Finally, a liberal publication, Time magazine no less, seems to have seen a little light.  We've gotten so used to liberals insisting on living out Einstein's definition of insanity to the bitter end and beyond that we had to read their article several times to believe they actually said what they seemed to be saying.

We also checked the author's backgrounds.  Most liberal rags have a token conservative or two on the payroll to try to give the appearance of balance.  If their article had been written by a token conservative, it would still be cause for rejoicing, but the title of our article would have been "Token Conservative Sheds Light."

Pain Among Plenty

As far as we can tell, the article "Pain Among Plenty" on page 33 of the August 18th issue of Time was written by members of their staff and may represent mainstream editorial thinking, at least at Time.  The article starts by pointing out that many Ethiopians are starving in spite of the natural fertility of the country.  After describing the funeral of a child who died of malnutrition, the article gets down to root causes:

In Ethiopia, 4.6 million people are at risk, and 75,000 children have severe acute malnutrition. Nearly a quarter-century ago, an outright famine led to Live Aid, an international fund-raising effort promoted by rock stars, which produced an outpouring of global generosity: millions of tons of food flooded into the country. Yet, ironically, that very generosity may have contributed to today's crisis. [emphasis added]

Celebration!  Joy!  A liberal publication is finally recognizing that ideas "born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept" can lead to great harm.  The Live Aid rock stars who helped raise money to feed starving Ethiopians had no idea that their benevolent goals would lead to evil outcomes, but Time points out that they have.

Over time, sustained food aid creates dependence on handouts and shifts focus away from improving agricultural practices to increase local food supplies.  Ethiopia exemplifies the consequences of giving a starving man a fish instead of teaching him to catch his own. [emphasis added]

That's precisely our objection to the American welfare system - a person who doesn't have to support himself or herself forgets how and becomes a permanent drain on society along with most of their children.  And Time gets it!

This year the U.S. will give more than $800 million to Ethiopia: $460 million for food, $350 million for HIV/AIDS treatment - and just $7 million for agricultural development.  Western governments are loath to halt programs that create a market for their farm surpluses, but for countries receiving their charity, long-term food aid can become addictive.  Why bother with development when shortfalls are met by aid?  Ethiopian farmers can't compete with free food, so they stop trying.  Over time, there's a loss of key skills, and a country that doesn't have to feed itself soon becomes a country that can't.  All too often, its rulers use resources elsewhere - Ethiopia has one of Africa's largest armies. [emphasis added]

Wow.  That could have come straight from Scragged.  It's very, very difficult to do any real good in Africa, no matter how much money you spend.  We've pointed out how Oprah Winfrey, one of the world's richest women, ran into trouble trying to set up one girl's school in Africa.

Time also pointed out that the Ethiopian government has figured out that we won't let their people starve.  Why take care of your citizens when other taxpayers will, courtesy of Uncle Sap?  Why not spend your money on basic social necessities like the military when food will be supplied for free?

Then Time explained that the real problem lies in our perceptions.

Why do we get aid so wrong?  Because it feels so right. "The American people," says U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia Donald Yamamoto, "are simply not going to sit tight while they see children dying." Nor should they: a starving man needs to be saved first, before he can be taught to fish - or farm.  But as the world rallies again to Ethiopia's aid, donors face a dilemma.  "We're not getting to the real problem," says Yamamoto. [emphasis added]

We get it wrong because we spend money with our feelings, we don't think about what we're doing.  That's why, for example, the Milwaukee bureaucracy can foreclose a man's house to collect a fine equal to 1% of the value of the house and why the Detroit child welfare bureaucrats can take a child from his parents and force the father out of his home when a vendor gave the child alcoholic lemonade by mistake.

Our biggest beef with liberals is that they don't think about the real-world results of the policies they advocate.  Doing something, anything, about the problem makes liberals feel good.  They don't seem to care that their misguided "aid" leads to more starvation, actual results don't seem to matter at all.

Teach a Man to Fish

Time asks what would be better than food aid:

What would [get at the real problem]?  Ethiopia thought it had found one answer. In 2005 a $1.4 billion five-year program identified 7.3 million Ethiopians unable to live without free food and gave them jobs in rural projects, such as roads and irrigation.  The idea was to create livelihoods as well as to save lives.  It was working, slowly. By this year, says a Western economist familiar with the effort, "a few thousand" had left the program and were making it on their own. [emphasis added]

"Creating livelihoods" as Time advocates is the right approach; that was one of the goals of President Clinton's welfare reforms.  What works for a country works just as well for individuals, and vice versa: getting people to take responsibility for supporting themselves worked as well in the US as in Ethiopia.  A Boston Globe op-ed argues that the welfare system traps people in poverty and that President Clinton's welfare reforms helped many poor people:

... it is clear that welfare reform has been a shining success. The Republican Congress that passed it and the Democratic president who signed it turned out to be truer champions of the poor than those who inveighed against it so hysterically. [emphasis added]

When a welfare mother was forced to go to work, it wasn't long before she earned more money than welfare paid.  Her children were lifted out of poverty by welfare reform, not by welfare.  Creating livelihoods is as important as saving lives, but programs that merely work aren't as glamorous.

Liberals beg to differ about the importance of creating livelihoods.  The National Welfare Rights Union (NWRU) argues:

Across the country, thousands of poor and low-income people are suffering from the effects of reform legislation. The implementation of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act ended the entitlement to welfare that had in been in place for over 65 years. Residents of the U.S. are no longer guaranteed the right to feed, to clothe, or to house themselves and their children in this, the richest country in the world.

Mr. Clinton's law emphasized personal responsibility and work; conventional liberal thinking emphasizes keeping handouts coming.  The fatal flaw in the Ethiopian program to create livelihoods is "a few thousand had left the program."

Aid bureaucrats hate anything that diminishes the need for aid.  When people leave the program, the agency can't ask for more money next year.  Any program which actually creates livelihoods won't get much bureaucratic support because the need will end.  Bureaucrats would much rather make their problem grow than solve it and be out of a job.

It's gratifying to have Time point out that actions have consequences.  Well-meaning food aid destroyed the Ethiopian agricultural system, making starvation inevitable.  We have perennial problems with agricultural surpluses, or at least we did until the idiots in Washington decided to turn 15% of our corn crop into 2% of our automobile fuel.

Other politicians saw a way to deal with surplus food by shipping it overseas.  Time has shown that giving away food puts local farmers out of business which guarantees future famines.

It would be better to send money so that poor people could buy food.  Increased demand would encourage local farmers instead of putting them under, but we didn't do that.  As a result, Time says,

Depressing as it may be, this may not be the last time Ethiopia needs help.

Depressing?  For a bureaucrat, it's cause for rejoicing: lifetime employment awaits in "doing good" while making famous rock stars feel good.  It's only depressing for the rest of us who have to pay for it or for those who truly care about the lives of Ethiopians.

Maybe Time will now use its megaphone to argue for policies which will make a permanent improvement in real lives rather than temporary "feel-good" for the rich.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for Scragged.com and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Foreign Affairs.
Reader Comments
Don't count on Time going Republican. This sort of light in the darkness happens from time to time. It's part of their process of appearing balanced by throwing Republicans a bone now and then.
August 25, 2008 9:09 AM

Why would you have a link with the text "worse off than ever" linking to an article showing that in fact poor people are better off than ever?

December 30, 2015 1:40 AM

Why would you have a link with the text "worse off than ever" linking to an article showing that in fact poor people are better off than ever?

December 30, 2015 1:40 AM

You can't say liberal ideas don't work and then link your own article pointing out that poverty has been eliminated...

December 30, 2015 1:42 AM
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