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Benevolent Dictatorship, No Thanks
Brad, over at Wendy McElroy.com, is a libertarian who has no objection to helping the poor. He does it personally, donating to the local food bank, refurbishing computers for poor kids, and more. He suddenly realizes what separates him from the lefties he knows:

I'm all for helping the poor. I just think it should be private, and voluntary.

At this point I usually hear the objection, "But that's not enough! Small scale solutions like that will never solve the problem!"

Today it hit me: why the hell not?

To be more specific: the question should not be how do increase the scope of the (private) solution. It should be, why is the problem so damned big?

Let's face it: if you're living in a society in which anywhere from one-quarter to one-half of the population can't meet their basic needs through their own efforts -- where a half-trillion dollar enterprise is needed to "help the poor" -- then there is something fundamentally wrong with your society; and redistributing wealth, from those who have managed to succeed to those who have not, is avoiding the real problem. Whether the problem is the legions of overpaid bureaucratic parasites, the erosion of savings through inflation, confiscatory taxation, the countless costs of busybody legislation, or all of the above, you need to fix the underlying cause before you can ever really help people.

Put another way: if transfusing a few units of blood doesn't help the patient's condition, you'd better start looking for the bleeding....not look for more blood donors.

As a (small-l) libertarian, I am working toward a society where everyone can sustain himself/herself; where being poor is a misfortune and not a chronic condition; and where the needy will be at most a few percent of the population. In that society, private charity will be more than sufficient to help them. And I'll be there, contributing.

Personally, I believe that giving people handouts perpetuates helplessness. And that letting bureaucrats manage the handouts perpetuates bureaucracy.

And, while I'm for caring for the desperately poor mentally ill and others who are incapable of doing much more than suffering, as for those who scream about funding health care for all -- meaning those who can pay for their care, but would really rather not -- I say, "Hey, go ahead." Out of your own pockets or a voluntarily funded charity, like these folks with the free clinic are doing.

This doesn't just apply to health care, but across the board. You feel the world should be a more compassionate place? Well, nobody's stopping you from putting your $100 bills where your mouth is.

Posted by aalkon at November 13, 2007 8:33 AM

Comments

"Personally, I believe that giving people handouts perpetuates helplessness. "

I saw on another post that you recommended a book by Stephanie Koontz called "Marriage: A History...". She also wrote a book called "The Way We Never Were" which investigates myths such as what you have mentioned in your blog. There is no evidence to prove that your statement is true and further to that, Ms. Koontz points out that America was built on government handouts. There is an entire chapter devoted to explaining this and pointing out that the poor were demonized in the late 1880s. It is an interesting read...I suggest you pick up a copy.

Posted by: KDR at November 13, 2007 11:59 AM

It might be useful to pin this up on your refrigerator: "The first duty of any organization is to ensure its continued existence."

At least one agency in FL doesn't even keep the forms for getting OFF their support in the local office. They have have to be ordered from Tallahassee. That's one of many ways somebody with a cushy government job can keep it. It's true: they measure success by how many people are on their welfare program, not by how many get out of it.

Posted by: Radwaste at November 13, 2007 12:00 PM

I'll support food security and self reliance versus charity food any day. That's why you'll rarely see me giving money to a food bank.

Food banks do not teach people to be self reliant. They perpetuate dependence.

I encourage anyone wanting to do some real good to investigate programs in their communities that encourage and support the poor to acquire the skills and knowledge they need to become self-reliant.

You know the saying "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for today, teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime." That's the idea behind real, sustainable charitable giving.

Whether you're investing in a business, the stock market or in your community, it's perfectly valid to ask for a solid return on your investment.

Posted by: Tori at November 13, 2007 12:17 PM

You know the saying "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for today, teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime." That's the idea behind real, sustainable charitable giving.

Actually, that is the idea behind modern "charitable" giving. Our society sees being poor as a personal flaw. The middle class can disdain the poor for being lazy and the rich for being greedy. Meanwhile, it's the middle class and the rich that benefit from most of the government handouts available!! In the 50's the government supported workers...the minimum wage could support a family with 3 kids!!

Posted by: KDR at November 13, 2007 1:02 PM

I encourage anyone wanting to do some real good to investigate programs in their communities that encourage and support the poor to acquire the skills and knowledge they need to become self-reliant.

Yep. And also look for ways to improve education and provide people who want it with access to that improved education, be that through private or through government means. A poor education system is a bad, bad thing for a modern society. If I thought throwing money at it would fix things, I could get behind that, but I think we've seen pretty clear evidence that it doesn't.

"The first duty of any organization is to ensure its continued existence."

ALWAYS remember that when dealing with ANY entity, be it the Republican Party or a homeless aid society.

Posted by: marion at November 13, 2007 1:03 PM

KDR, do you advocate expanding government programs that claim to give money to the poor?

**...it's the middle class and the rich that benefit from most of the government handouts available!!**

One man's handout is another man's payment. The middle class and rich have the most productive members of society. So, for example, if we subsidize college education, we essentially pay people to go to school, and in return we get paid back from higher productivity in the out years. I'm guessing Stephanie Koontz's favorite example was the subsidizing of the trans continental railroad. But keep in mind this was essentially the gov't paying to get the thing built, which it was, and we reaped the benefits.

This should be contrasted with subsidizing a leisure class, which can be upper, middle, or lower.

Posted by: doombuggy at November 13, 2007 1:57 PM

One more time, people: PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.
Learn it, teach it, live it. Each and every one of us. How the hell can you expect to feed somebody else if you neglect to feed yourself? You keep giving and giving and giving, and pretty soon, there'll be NOTHING LEFT TO GIVE. Because the greedy "poor" people who have their hands out at the food banks for the free turkeys, every Thanksgiving, year after year, have come to expect those handouts. And they tell their friends, who tell their friends, etcetera and so on. I get tired of seeing the same families year after year, getting bigger and bigger, bringing their friends, and their friends' friends. They even know some of the volunteers on a first-name basis. "Oh hi, good to see you! Little Leroy's gettin' so big! Here's his buddy Jimmy's family, they need help too. And you remember Tiesha and her family, right? Look at all the people here! Oh look, there's Tanya and her family!" and on and on it goes. And I'm not going to apologize for offending anyone, because my mom and my girls and I donate turkeys every year, and we support the food drive at my mom's church, and help distribute the turkeys and food baskets, and I've seen this first hand. These people don't want to learn a skill and support themselves, they're very happy, thank you very much, to let us feed them! Every. Freaking. Thanksgiving. You would think they would have some self-respect and some pride and want to get off the dole, but, no, that's too much work. Geez don't get me started. Sorry folks, I'll go back to lurking now. o_O

Posted by: Flynne at November 13, 2007 5:05 PM

"Personally, I believe that giving people handouts perpetuates helplessness. And that letting bureaucrats manage the handouts perpetuates bureaucracy."

Amen! I've seen it happen with my own two eyes.

Amy, you da man.

Posted by: Dennis at November 13, 2007 5:24 PM

I do a little soup kitchen work myself, usually @ St. Pius in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. Christmas, especially, I see the way these handouts encourage dependency.

The dozens, even hundreds of people who line up for shitty canned ham, warmed up in a salty/sugary bath of canned pineapple chunks and whatever that weird slime they pack ham in. Yum.

No, I can easily see how people would rather be on welfare or skip those overtime hours, if that means scoring the most revolting meal imaginable on Christmas Day. Especially the big industrial cans of chopped green beans, half warmed up in pans -- who wouldn't blow their money on lottery tickets with that special treat waiting in the wings?

Really, some years there are so many people wrapped in multiple winter coats, trying to not to freeze in the underheated basement lunch room at St. Pius that we've thought about putting up a velvet rope, just to keep out the undesirables.

Don't even get me started on the hijinks that transpire in that single file line to score a pair of mittens or (jackpot!) knitted hat. I think US magazine is coming this year to do a "The Poor! They're just like us!" special.

Posted by: Harriet at November 13, 2007 5:37 PM

A few months ago there was a fantastic article about the drug-infested center of your city: http://city-journal.com/printable.php?id=2380

I only read it today but have already passed it on to the media contacts in my city. For we have one of the worst homeless situations in Canada and yet nothing of any substance is being done. Instead, an entire industry has developed around these lost souls. The cynic in mean believes that so-called well meaning members of the Poverty Industry don't really want to find solutions, for it would signal the end of their employment.

Posted by: Robert (Vancouver) at November 13, 2007 8:27 PM

Heather Mac Donald, who wrote that was part of my LA writergirl circle, and I often blog her pieces on City Journal, which are wise, and a nice antidote to all the knee-jerk cop-bashing out there.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 13, 2007 8:32 PM

I read that City Journal piece, and I can't come to terms with the homeless advocates. They seem to either get a voyeuristic thrill from knowing people
live on the street, or they have some self loathing issues, either from hating their own station in life, or the society around them.

Posted by: doombuggy at November 14, 2007 12:09 AM

The cynic in mean believes that so-called well meaning members of the Poverty Industry don't really want to find solutions, for it would signal the end of their employment.

The cynic in you is wrong. Most people who work in social services would love for their job to end if it was because the problem had also ended. I work in Grand Rapids, MI and here we have a 10 year vision to end homelessness that the entire community supports, including the shelters who would be closed because of it. In fact Michigan is the only state in the US where every single county is participating in a state wide campaign to end homelessness. http://www.thecampaigntoendhomelessness.org/
We're doing this because it's something we believe in. It certainly not for the paycheck.

Posted by: cleep at November 14, 2007 8:14 AM

The real crime is paying people not to work and then giving a wink and a nod to importing illegal aliens to do the work that 'no one here wants to do'. This is a self perpetuating fraud that guarantees a new crop of welfare recipients as soon as the newcomers become eligible for them.

A few months scrubbing toilets and picking lettuce is a great way to motivate someone to get an education unless they are really content doing that sort of work.

Failure to thrive is the problem and the cause: It's culture, stupid, not race or ethnicity. Cultures evolve to maximize survival under specific circumstances. Left alone and unsubsidized, when the circumstances change the culture changes over time. That is the strength of our species; adaptability.

Success in the USA is based on the agricultural model, not the hunter gatherer model. To succeed as a member of the former a person has to learn, produce more than needed for the current day and invest for the future. Coming from a land where these attributes are not rewarded or are depreciated, where there is no stable place to deposit resources so that they will be available later, where sharing is more important that taking care of ones self, a person concerns themselves with the needs of the day only and learns that planning ahead is a waste of time. If there is no way to preserve the excess of a kill, sharing it with the rest of the village is advantageous. When freezers are available it is better to keep the rest for tomorrow. Same goes for banks and a stable currency as it relates to income.

There are lots of folks who would be more comfortable in a hunter gatherer 'sharing village' society. Many still exist, go there and try it out for a while. If you like it, stay there, just don't bring it here. It took our civilization eons to climb out of that pit.

America: Land of opportunity, not land of entitlement. You can't have both because entitlement comes at the expense of opportunity.

Posted by: Jim H. at November 14, 2007 11:53 AM

Good post, Jim.

Posted by: doombuggy at November 14, 2007 8:24 PM

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