Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A New Approach To Fighting Poverty

I thought about writing about the historic 10% lead the Republicans have in Gallup’s generic poll (51% to 41%), but that’s hardly unexpected to Commentarama readers. I thought about writing about all the laughable racism allegations made against Glenn Beck’s rally, but that’s nothing new either. So instead, I thought I’d talk about an article that appeared on Drudge yesterday, an article that most people probably missed and which actually signals a significant change in world-wide thinking.

According to this article, a local charity in St. Louis is offering money to the parents of children whose kids have near-perfect attendance in school. What you probably don’t know is that this is part of a world-wide trend that is reforming the way charitable money (and welfare money) is being handed out, a trend that is showing remarkable success.

Prior to the 1960s, charity was largely handled by church and civic organizations. This system worked pretty well because these groups used the opportunity of the recipient’s need to try to instill new values that would set the person’s life right. Indeed, some groups required the recipients to give up alcohol. Others required them to attend church services or put them to work in soup kitchens or other charitable projects to learn a sense of responsibility and jumpstart a work ethic.

But in the 1960s, the government stepped into this “market” and became the dominant provider of charity. And once the government got its hands on this “market,” the left demanded that the government act in a “value-neutral” way. There were many reasons for this, but the main one frankly was that the left had been embarrassed by its embrace of eugenics, which was disgraced by Nazism, and it wanted to repudiate that. Thus, it swung to the polar opposite of what it had been advocating and it began to claim that society had no right to tell anyone how to live.

Consequently, an entire generation of people who had demonstrated a history of making poor choices was handed money with no responsibility and no requirements. Predictably poverty exploded, the inner cities imploded, and whole generations of kids ended up being “raised” by the state in conditions that were barely better than being tossed into the wild at birth.

Thirty years later, the black community was destroyed and a large chunk of the rural white community was following at full speed. But in the 1990s, things began to change. Forced by a Republican Congress, the Clinton Administration allowed the states to begin experimenting with limited changes to the system. Suddenly states were forcing those of its wards who could work to get jobs if they wanted to keep their benefits. Hundreds of thousands of people lifted themselves off the welfare roles. In fact, this was so successful that the left went from screaming that millions would die in the streets to claiming that they were responsible for this reform.

This led liberals worldwide to rethink the value-neutral approach. Soon programs began to appear all across the world where charity/welfare was handed out with conditions attached. For example, money was given to poor parents on condition that they vaccinate their kids or send them to school. Many on the left whined that this was unfair, but slowly it became clear that this was causing massive positive changes in these people’s lives. By providing an incentive to these people to make good choices, they actually began making good decisions and, in return, their lives began to improve. This has worked everywhere from Brazil to Africa to the Middle East, and now St. Louis, and has spawned many offshoots -- things like microloans to very small businesses and tying foreign aid to demonstrable numbers like the number of kids in school or the amount of clean drinking water provided to citizens.

I’m sure some of you are uncomfortable with this idea because you don’t like the government telling people how to live their lives. But I think this is heading in the right direction.

The sad truth is that 30 years of rampant liberalism has create an underclass that no longer has the tools to change their lives on their own. And they are raising new generations all the time with the same non-values, new generations that are fated to go straight to welfare. The only way to break this cycle and to undo the damage that has been done, i.e. to lift the underclass, is to give these people an incentive to start making good decisions instead of bad. These types of programs do that.

So I, for one, hope that this spreads.


Joel Farnham said...


It does bother me, but then again straight welfare bothers me more. One thing, I hope it doesn't lead the people into slavery and thinking that the government is the giver of all that is good in this world. If this is designed to woo or get people off of welfare, I am for it. If it is used to create more mindless serfs, I am against it.

Di said...

I echo Joel - straight welfare bothers me more. I figure that for most people to earn a paycheck, an employer is telling them how to run their lives for 8 hours a day before they hand over the money. If the "work" a welfare recipient has to do for his "employer" is get their kids to school, fine, at least they are doing something - I'd like it to be more. I'd like welfare to only be handed to those who truly cannot fend for themselves due to mental or physical limitations or for a very limited time with strings attached while the recipient has a chance to get back on his feet. People get back on their feet faster when they are forced to by necessity.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I share your sentiment, but so far at least these programs have been well done. In the instances that I've seen them work, they took simple ideas like sending your kids to school and told these people "if you want this money, then you need to make sure your kids go to school."

This is actually a very conservative idea if you think about it because it provides only an incentive to do well and it leaves it up the to recipient to decide if they want to change their behavior. And if they do, then they end up taking basic steps that actually have been foreign concepts to these people but are second nature to us.

Basically, it's a way to kick start their sense of judgment -- it's the same way we teach kids how to behave. Compare that to what had been done, which was "here's free money, please do the right thing" and I think it's kind of obvious why the new plan works.

It won't work for everyone, but it will get a lot more people doing the right things and that tends to feed on itself as they will pass these new values onto their kids. And right now that's the real problem, there is a vast underclass (the world over) who simply have never seen anyone make responsible decisions in their lives. This is injecting that type of thinking into their lives and hopefully will get them to see that if they make good decisions, their world gets better.

AndrewPrice said...

Di, I agree with you entirely.

First, I think life is about incentives. If we do the right things, we maintain our relationships, we keep out jobs, and we stay out of jail. But if we don't, then the opposite happens. Welfare has been the one area where this was not true -- do whatever you want and you still get the money. That's the corrosive factor, it wiped out the connection between a person's behavior and the consequences of that behavior. I see this as an attempt to re-instill that connection and to get these people acting like responsible humans again.

Secondly, I think they need to include more values than just going to school, and I think they are. But most of these programs began overseas where people lived in shanty towns and basically lived like animals. This was an attempt to get their kids educated (the key to leaving poverty) and healthy. That's why the initial focus was on vaccinations and sending kids to schools -- where they could be taught skills they needed. These were actually huge steps for those countries.

Beyond that, I can see a series of values that everyone could agree upon that could be added if these programs prove successful and if the lack of those values was still causing problems.

Third, I agree that they need to start cutting people off who don't need the help. That sends all the wrong signals, and it's wasteful of the resources that could be used to help those who do need help (or be returned to the taxpayer/giver).

AndrewPrice said...

Joel and Di, Let me add that I have dealt with a lot of these people in my practice, and I can tell you that there really is a thought process gone wrong with them.

They do have an "entitlement" thought process and it leads to some very strange and very self-destructive behaviors. The biggest of these is the sense that they don't need to do anything, but that everyone else is supposed to do it for them. Thus, they don't take care of themselves, they wait for others to do it for them -- even simple things that you and I do every day, they see as someone else's responsibility. This kind of thinking needs to be changed.

By injecting a requirement that these people act responsibly if they want their money, we are at least beginning to break that type of thinking.

Moreover, and this is the key part, from my practice, I have learned that many of these people honestly do not know better. They've been "raised" in an environment where no one ever taught them how they should act. Their parent(s) didn't care about them, never sent them to school, never taught them hygeine or got them medical care (even when it's free). These are the people who will benefit the most from being forced to make good decisions if they want their benefits, because they just need to learn what good decisions are.

This program won't work for the ones who've entered the criminal underclass -- an article for another day but most middle class people would be shocked how these people "earn a living" (mainly they rent homes and then pillage them of everything that can be sold including wires in the walls, before disappearing -- but it is likely to work for many of the rest.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: I'm all for giving the funds to churches and private charities. The only requirement would be a quick accounting of how many people the institution serves. That way it's religion-neutral, but completely eliminates the bureaucracy currently administering the funds.

Perhaps after a generation of this, there would be a new generation which has lived under a system that doesn't teach "I know my rights, and I want my money" (current recipients are already a lost cause). As long as a dollar is handed out by a government bureaucrat, the mind-set is "the gummint gives me the money that I don't have to do anything to earn, so I support the gummint."

Most of them don't understand that the government doesn't have any money it didn't force out of the hands of taxpayers, so they don't even say "thank you" for the government largess. The rest don't give a damn.

I'll grant that some holes in services will need to be filled by government because the churches and charities can't be everywhere all the time. But as far as I'm concerned, give 'em a bag lunch or emergency medical services, but don't give them a penny in cash. Helping people who can't help themselves should never include paying them to remain helpless.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I get your point, but I disagree.

First, handing public money to churches is a bad idea. Not only does this bring up the whole church/state question and the idea that tax money is being used to support religious indoctrination, but you get into the question of what constitutes a church -- what if the Church of Satan decides to run a program?

Also, the other side of the coin is that the government corrodes whatever it touches. Look at what's happened to churches in Europe where the churches and the government have joined hands. Churches should run like mad from working with the government lest them end up value-neutralized.

Secondly, these programs are evidence of a change in the value-neutral thinking. Thus, the days of just handing out money as a straight up entitlement seem to be ending. This program and others like it appear to be attempts to instill a sense of responsibility and to make sure that the children of these people get education (the key to leaving poverty) and medical care.

Third, this isn't paying people to remain helpless. This is paying people to start taking control over their own lives. Paying them to remain helpless was the old system.

Moreover, I think this is a necessary bridge to getting us to a better place from where 30-40 years of value-neutral government handouts have gotten us. In other words, the government created this mess and these people need to be weened back off and we need to make sure that their kids get weened off of it -- you can't go cold turkey on this one.

And since this is working everywhere it's been tried (in places like Africa and South America) I have strong hopes that this can work here and begin to change the under-class culture.

Joel Farnham said...


Do you know what would be a better approach to ending poverty? Remove the minimum wage. Remove it entirely. That would do more than anything else you could do with money directly applied.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: No solution which involves the government is ever going to be very good. That's why I suggested a strictly numerical assessment of how many people the church/charity serves, then giving them the money proportionately. That's a temporary transition phase. After a decade or two, it would cease entirely, because by then the churches/charities would either have succeeded and expanded, or failed (a corollary to the "free market").

But there would have to be an end date, and total neutrality as to what the churches/charities do and how they do it. And of course, it would also require that the government get nearly completely out of the business of charity.

Ultimately, there would have to be a formula by which taxes are reduced in such a way that taxpayers (the ones who really matter here) have more money for charity than they did when government was the charity teat.

Doing it this way would help with your suggestion of weening them off government dependency and entitlement. But as long as the government remains as the ultimate backstop, there will be no change.

My doubts aren't about the ability of a plan such as this to work, it's with the government's ability to give up its big constituency by turning over tax money to large numbers of churches and private charities.

Presently, the entitlement mentality is alive and well and promoted by the Democrats and the left. It will take a bold step (which I doubt the politicians will ever take) to get people off the dole. I see the current situation as "welfare lite" rather than the complete break which is necessary. The welfare reforms were like giving an alcoholic six drinks a day instead of his usual ten. The only solution is complete abstinence. The Democrats depend on these welfareholics, and they depend on the Democrats. Until the government safety net is completely eliminated, there will be no cure.

I should also add that your discussion of the government getting involved in church affairs being corrosive and destructive is exactly right. That's why I suggested churches and charities, and based solely on numbers served, not policies implemented. That said, I don't think the government will ever be able to bring itself to give up its interfering ways, so I concede that my suggestion is almost entirely academic.

Ponderosa said...


I'd like to get rid of the tax-exempt status for churches.

Not as punishment - but to get them back in the "game" and to share our same burden.

Too long have they allowed themselves to be silenced by section 501(c)(3).

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I think that's a very good idea -- especially with teenage unemployment at a record of around 40%. It's been shown over and over that the minimum wage hurts the poor, but unfortunately it sounds great to say that you're giving all poor people a pay raise, and politicians loving doing what sounds great, even if it hurts people.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I actually don't disagree with anything you've said.

I do think it will be harder to give the money to churches than it appears (or than it should be). But I too would like to see charity returned to the private sector -- and I certainly agree that the government is good at messing up everything it touches.

At this point, I'm just happy that the left is finally catching on to the idea that you can't just hand out money with no strings -- because that's been the horrible idea that caused all these problems. I am hoping this change of mind will allow us to get a big chunk of people off welfare and rebuild these destroyed communities.

Ultimately, I don't like the idea of taxpayer money going to support people either -- and I agree there must be an end, but I think we do need to do something because the government created this problem, the problem is spreading, and it infects so many other aspects of our cities -- everything from crime to blight to drugs to soaring medical costs.

If this can change that, then I am all in favor of giving it a try.

AndrewPrice said...

Ponderosa, You make an excellent point. That's the problem of the government-church relationship. If the government has power over the purse strings that churches rely upon, then the government has the power to corrupt the chuches' message.

LawHawkRFD said...

Ponderosa and Andrew: As Marshall said, "the power to tax is the power to destroy." The left already has a mission to destroy religion in American life. The idea of removing the tax-exempt status of the churches sounds good as a theory, but in practice, it would be the death of religion in America. Removing the tax-exempt status of churches would inevitably be followed by the removal of tax-exempt status for non-church charities. The left would ultimately succeed in its quest to make government the new god from whom all punishment and all reward flow.

StanH said...

I think it’s worth a try. The Great Society has enslaved generations of people into governmental servitude, and the only thing that will free these people from their bondage, is a radical change in their state of mind. A great example of a group of people that totally depend on government for their everything, is New Orleans and Katrina. They sat there like lumps on a log, and literally drowned. Pitiful.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, That's a good point too. It's definitely a complicated issue!

But in either event, I think that churches are best off separating themselves from the government as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. I truly see Europe as a warning of what can happen when churches let the system co-opt them.

AndrewPrice said...

Stan, Great analogy. I almost mentioned the difference between Katrina and somewhere like Nashville or even next door Mississippi, where the people were not accustomed to waiting for the government. Those places helped themselves and set about rebuilding very quickly. New Orleans is still waiting for the government to finish fixing the place. That's all about the difference in mentality, that's it.

Ponderosa said...


Perhaps you are correct. Perhaps it is a terrible idea. I will table it for now and do some digging.

OK - let me run this (still off topic) idea by you:

My main desire is for the Feds to stop "giving" money to any: city, county or state governments, - for universities, highways, or well anything. Also, no money for NGOs or other organizations that deal with internal/domestic issues.

I don't wish to interfere with foreign policy, so that w/b untouched.

No grants, no mandates (funded or unfunded), no loans, etc. Nothing, nada. If a state pays "too much" the money goes back to the citizens. And of course a legislature would be free to increase taxes to adjust to the loss of Federal $$.

If an agency/entity isn't under direct Federal control - no money may be spent by the Federal gov't. The states are not franchisees.

There is far too much arm-twisting, too much is hidden and the true costs are never felt.

Where does that rank on the idea meter?
Very pedestrian, a little nutty, just dumb, etc.?

LawHawkRFD said...

Ponderosa: Flesh that out and we've got a formula for getting the feds back in DC where they belong and leaving the States to attend to their own business. The Constitution gives the Congress and the federal government very limited powers, rights and privileges. Those do not include making the States and their citizens dependent on the whims of Washington bureaucrats. When the federal government controls the State and municipal funds (or large portions of them) they can reward or punish them at their own discretion. That essentially voids the entire purpose of free and independent States.

So give yourself a pat on the back, and let's take your plan to the Republicans and shove it down the throats of the Democrats.

AndrewPrice said...

Ponderosa, Not nutty at all. In fact, I think it's a brilliant idea. It gets right to the source of our current problems with government over-reach. I would whole-heartedly agree with it.

BUT, I don't see the public accepting it. You would have millions of vested interests screaming that you were about to bankrupt states and that states can't do what the Feds do, etc. etc., "what about the children!" So I don't think you could pass it straight up.

That said... you probably could do it by stealth. Just start dropping mandates and cutting block grants accordingly.

Tam said...

Here's a tangent to the discussion of ending entitlements...an "attack" ad from Gabby Giffords attacks her opponent Jesse Kelly's intention to cut entitlement spending--he actually wants to phase out social security! Yeah, along with 70% of the people! It really shows how out of touch she is, along with many democrats. If she was really listening to the public, she would be running on that same platform!

Tam said...

(By the way...Gabby Giffords is Tucson's (distric 8)congress person)

AndrewPrice said...

Tam, I think the Democrats are playing from the wrong playbook. They thought that the election of Obama meant that the public was ready to try all the kooky things they've been advocating for the past 50 years.

And I think, along with that, comes the inability to realize that the public is not happy with the government doing all the things it does. They seem to think that the election of Obama suddenly meant the public loves the government taking care of everyone.

They are in for a surprise.

Ponderosa said...

Thanks. I'm having a great day.

I came up with a workable idea and on a different issue a couple libs told me to shut-up (heh - a "win" in my book).

So, I left voicemail for a Congressman asking for two minutes to discuss the "Price-Hawk" bill. While I wait I'll flesh it out.

I was just going for not-nutty.
Thanks again.

AndrewPrice said...

LOL! Good luck with the Price-Hawk bill! :-)

Being told to shut by liberals is almost always a big time win. Congrats!

rlaWTX said...

I'm late to the party - and I'll preface by saying that I work for a church and am a PK (totally different denomination) and do NOT have the gift of mercy... I have seen a whole lot of gimme-ers over the years.

Europe doesn't support charity because the gov't does the job. The USA is getting perilously close to tipping that way. There are scads of folks who call or stop by requesting assistance. We send them to a local Mission supported by this denom's local churches and some grants, etc.
But more and more, there are fewer givers to that type of charity. Folks wil give for post-disaster relief, but everyday "I lost my job" "Just got of prison" "My guy left me" giving is decreasing, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the givers have abdicated that to the state, since they HAVE to pay taxes anyway...

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, I hear a lot of people say that, "why should I give to charity when I already give to the government."

It is a very dangerous thing to let "an industry" like charities disappear because not only do you lose a lot of expertise, but it's very, very difficult to reconstruct the industry when the government decides that it wants to back out again. In effect, by wiping out the people who would do that job, the government ends up trapping itself doing that job.

That's why I think it makes sense to back the government out as quickly as possible. Still, I see this change of thinking (which is being driven by private charities first and foremost) as a very positive step to reducing the number of people who need help and setting them on the path to become productive, self-reliant citizens.

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