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The Perennial Problem of Philanthropy 3

Just because you're poor doesn't mean you deserve help.

By Will Offensicht  |  December 2, 2011

The previous article in this series pointed out that our welfare system is splitting our nation into two groups - recipients who are ungrateful for what they receive from the government and constantly demand more, and taxpayers who resent government forcing them to support expensive freeloaders in idleness.

The Obamacare debate adds fuel to this raging fire.  It requires taxpayers not only to pay for welfare recipients' bodily needs, it also requires working people to pay for whatever medical procedures doctors can lobby the medical system to cover, of which there is an infinite supply.

Christian Charity

We've mourned our society's loss of civility, the absence of neighborly concern for other people as our society abandons the values which used to be taught via Christianity.  The fact that Christianity isn't taken seriously any more doesn't keep big spenders from labeling anti-taxers as un-Christian.

This accusation seems to be based on the mistaken idea that Christianity teaches that there are no limits to charity - taxpayers ought to fork over whatever anyone asks for in the name of charity without complaining.  To the contrary, the Bible teaches that there are hard limits to charity:

"If any would not work, neither should he eat." - II Thessalonians 3:10.

Note that it doesn't say, "can not work," it's "would not work."  People who are physically able to work yet prefer not to work have no Christian call on the charity of others.

Yet charity is clearly commanded: "Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth." - Ephesians 4:28

A thief should reform and support himself through his own efforts.  He should work not only to support himself, but to be able to support others who are in need.  The goal of dealing with thieves is to turn them into productive members of society.  Does this sound like the result of the workings of our penal and justice systems?  Hardly.

Does Christianity teach charity to the point of commanding charity?  Absolutely; but charity as taught in the Bible is profoundly different from our present system which encourages multigenerational welfare leeches we see today.  Contrary to the demands of OWS and their leftist political allies, it's very much a Christian concept to distinguish between those who are poor through no fault of their own versus individuals such as alcoholics, drug users, and the lazy who make themselves poor through their own actions.

Welfare Wars

The debate of how to handle charity goes back to the founding of our nation.  When the Mayflower landed, the idealistic new Americans decided to have everyone share in whatever was grown. They quickly found that so many people preferred to be idle that the colony nearly starved.

Fortunately, they realized their mistake before their economy collapsed completely and changed their system so that each person kept what they grew.  Productivity increased and the colony prospered.

Josiah Quincy, who chaired a Massachusetts legislative committee addressing the state's Pauper Laws, wrote in 1821:

The poor are of two classes: 1. The impotent poor; in which denomination are included all who are totally incapable of work, through old age, infancy, sickness, or corporeal debility.  2. The able poor, in which denomination are included all who are capable of work of some nature or other.

Rep. Quincy favored government help for those who truly couldn't work - primarily the handicapped or aged - but he believed there are differences between those who could do absolutely nothing and those who could do a little.  He never anticipated minimum wage laws under which people who could "do a little" would be forbidden to sell their services to willing employers.

Rep. Quincy recognized that making welfare rules too tight would exclude some who really needed help, but making them too loose would tempt some who could work to be idle at public expense.  He believed that government officials were inherently incapable of rightly making such judgments; charity should therefore be left to private organizations which were spending their own money and thus had an interest in spending it wisely and in ways that help people lift themselves out of poverty.

I recently saw a blog discussion where a conservative was answering a liberal's charge that conservatives are heartless for not wanting to pay more taxes:

A recent example [of a church activity] that comes to mind was a group that collected relief items and drove to Missouri after the tornadoes that hit during late summer. I donated my money for that, since I didn't have the time to go myself. I go to the poor areas of Dallas and Fort Worth to provide assistance to the homeless, battered women, fatherless teens, and out of work people. I do this to help provide financial support, education, and guidance when needed, because I believe that it's important to help people find their way back to a sense of pride in their lives, not because I am wealthy...  [emphasis added]

The conservative illustrated the two different views of charity.  Conservatives believe in individual responsibility.  The purpose of charity ought to be to help a recipient find a productive place in society, not just for society's sake, but for the sake of the recipient.  The conservative spoke of helping people find "a sense of pride in their lives."

My point is that there is a fundamental difference between tax payer dollars dispensed by the government and those given by private citizens. I've seen the difference with my own two eyes working with people on government assistance. There is something VERY different emotionally and mentally that occurs when a person receives assistance from their neighbors instead of from a faceless government. There is true GRATITUDE displayed on the part of those whom I'm able to help; one in which inspires an almost immediate turn around in will power to set their lives straight. No such connection is made with a government check. It is not viewed as charity from their neighbors, rather something that they are owed by the government.

Liberals want to shovel money out the door to anyone who isn't getting everything the government believes he or she should get.   They also lock people into the system:

Additionally, the government does a piss-poor job of enabling people to elevate out of their current condition, unlike what you typically see with private organizations. Moreover, every dollar given locally goes significantly further than one first sent to DC and then back to your community, because the former doesn't need to be skimmed to support the unnecessary bureaucracy that comes with the latter.

Welfare rules make it nearly impossible to escape from poverty; conservatives suspect that the agencies write the rules this way on purpose so they can ask for more money next year.  Liberal politicians won't admit that they benefit from the votes of welfare recipients and from the votes of government employees who work for the programs.  Not admitting this obvious conflict of interest makes conservatives suspicious of all liberal ideas.

This, then, are the two views of the welfare system:

  1. The government has a responsibility to provide some minimum standard of living for everyone, regardless of their ability or desire to work, no matter how much it costs.
  2. Society should help people who're in difficulty, but the goal should be to restore them to productive citizenship and make them self-supporting as rapidly and as economically as possible.

The next article in this series describes some charitable efforts of the past to see what worked.  We then contrast those earlier efforts with the results of our current welfare system.