Category: Effective Compassion

bloated uncle samHead Start doesn’t work. More people than ever are now on food stamps. Medicaid is staggering under the weight of its own bloat. Why are we continuing to fund bad programs?

This is what Stephen M. Krason is asking. Such programs keep expanding:

There has been a sharp increase in the food-stamp and Children’s Health Insurance programs. Obama has proposed more federal funding for Head Start and pre-school education generally, job training for laid-off workers, and Medicaid. In fact, the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) has bloated the Medicaid rolls. He is even seeking free federally subsidized community college education. I have seen numbers ranging from 79 to 126 federal programs aimed at reducing poverty and an annual price tag of $668 to $927 billion.

The question is: are we getting our money’s worth? Krason says absolutely not. (more…)

A lot of people have a vision for the developing world. Some want to create jobs. Some want to increase aid. Some want more mission trips.

Yaopeng Zhou and Marc Albanese literally want to change the vision of the developing world. These two men are aware that vision care in the developing world is hard to come by. People with vision problems – even ones that are easily corrected – often cannot access eye care. There are not enough doctors, and when care is available, it’s expensive.

Zhou and Albanese have founded Smart Vision Labs, creating an easy-to-use technology that uses smart phones to give eye exams. Smart Vision Labs recently won a multi-million dollar “challenge to entrepreneurs, thinkers, and problem-solvers to provide innovative solutions in Healthcare, Education, Sustainability, and Transportation.”

This video illustrates their work.

Read “How the Power of a Good Idea Could Bring Vision to 1 Billion People” at LinkedIn.

noun_86179_ccToday at Think Christian I reflect on President Obama’s State of the Union message last night. I think it was perhaps the best speech I have heard him give in terms of delivery and general tone. There are numerous things that one might quibble with in a speech of that length, of course.

My TC piece is an attempt to help us to put into proper perspective political promises and policy proposals. I look particularly at the question of economic inequality and the assumptions underlying the government’s redistributive actions.

As Danielle Kurtzleben puts it, “Obama is making a case that the economy’s distribution engine is broken, and that the recovery simply won’t fix it. His solution is for government to approach redistribution as a positive good rather than a necessary evil.”

Friedrich Hayek once called intellectuals “professional secondhand dealers in ideas.” And the Preacher proclaimed, “There is nothing new under the sun.” So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising when ideas, memes, and other cultural phenomena pop up again and again.

There is, however, a notable correspondence between an Acton Commentary that I wrote earlier this month, “The Worst Christmas Song Ever,” and a piece that appeared weeks earlier at The Federalist. In “‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ Is The Worst Christmas Song Ever,” Leslie Loftis takes down this miserable tune in devastating fashion. Loftis points out that the song “has a little of everything to loathe. Condescension. Inane inaccuracies. Smugness. Mullets.”

Whether or not you have read my commentary, you should go check out her case against the song now.

I first noticed the song, which heretofore had been background Christmas muzak, when we screened the new documentary Poverty, Inc. earlier this year at the Acton Institute offices. That film includes a section discussing “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

Matthea Brandenburg helpfully points out some further commentary by Magatte Wade and others about the song over at the PovertyCure blog.

When Christmas rolled around, I had the idea to write something about the song, and connected it with William Easterly’s analysis of the differing perspectives on development offered by Gunnar Myrdal and Hayek. But I now think that even though I hadn’t read Loftis’ piece, I had seen the title before I wrote my piece. In fact, I checked Ben Domenech’s excellent email newsletter The Transom, to which you should subscribe, and there on December 3 is the following: ‘“Do They Know It’s Christmas” is the worst Christmas song ever. http://vlt.tc/1qf7

No doubt I saw the link, and got the idea for calling it the “worst ever” into my head. Then some days later I connected it to the Poverty, Inc. clip and wrote my piece. So the idea for calling this the worst Christmas song ever must be credited to Loftis and The Federalist. I’m sorry that I didn’t realize that Loftis’ piece had already appeared, or I would have pointed to it earlier, and given credit for the idea straight away. So in the interests of disclosure, I certainly haven’t been the only one to criticize this song or even to call it the “worst Christmas song ever.” I guess I’ve got egg(nog) on my face. The variety of voices that find the song problematic, however, should be a indication that there’s something rotten in “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” It is, after all, a song that includes a toast like this: “Here’s to them underneath that burning sun.”

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is like a bad earworm that won’t go away. And now I really, really hate that song!

Members of Band Aid in 1984

Members of Band Aid in 1984

In last week’s Acton commentary, “The Worst Christmas Song Ever,” Jordan Ballor touched on the well-intentioned yet harmful message shared by “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” the 1984 song produced by the music group, Band Aid, in response to the famine that struck Ethiopia.

Ballor describes the context and some of the song’s lyrics:

The song describes Africa largely as a barren wasteland, ‘Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears.’ It continues in this vein. Africa, the onetime breadbasket of the Roman Empire and home of the Nile River is a land ‘where nothing ever grows, no rain nor rivers flow.’ The title question likewise plays into the supposed desperation of the continent. The only ‘Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.’ The response to this call is supposed to be charity from the affluent West, to ‘feed the world’ and thereby ‘let them know it’s Christmastime again.’

The song perpetuates an image of Africans as helpless and dependent on outside assistance to support their well-being. It is true that dire situations exist and increased awareness and emergency aid is needed to prevent loss of life, outbreak of disease, and other severe conditions. But overall, do negative depictions serve to accurately portray people in the “developing world,” and their capacity for producing innovation and change in the areas in which they live?

This is the question I pose in the PovertyCure blog article, “The Hopeless Results of Graphic Poverty Imagery,” which highlights the 1984 Christmas Song and similar versions that have been produced since.

I argue that depicting Africans as incapable and destitute ultimately neglects their true nature as human beings. Though it is true that poverty exists in some corners of Africa (and this should not be ignored), a vibrant, energized environment can be witnessed in many others. There are thousands of entrepreneurs like Senegalese entrepreneur, Magatte Wade, who are establishing creative solutions and finding new markets for business and trade.

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In this week’s commentary I argue that “Do They Even Know It’s Christmas?” is the worst Christmas song of all time.

Kanye agrees.Kanye Bono Christmas

Dr. Kent Brantly

Dr. Kent Brantly

I once read a fascinating book about the leper colony on Molokai. The Molokai lepers were literally cast out of society, sent as far away as possible, with almost no support systems.  There was no health care for them, no houses beyond rudimentary shelter, no way to readily obtain clothing, school books for children…it was a frightful and frightening situation. A brave and gentle priest, Fr. Damien de Veuster from Belgium, accepted the assignment to go to Molokai and serve the 600 lepers there.

He arrived to chaos. Those suffering from leprosy were living in a lawless society. They fought over food, areas of land – it was survival of the fittest. In the 16 years that Damien lived on Molokai, he built a church, helped the people build houses that truly were homes, constructed needed buildings and roadways in the mountainous region, taught farming to the residents, and provided education. His greatest gift, however, was spiritual. (more…)

pic_related_100614_LB_BThroughout the history of the church, Christians have been actively involved in the provision and funding of health and medical resources. But for the past 50 years, these functions have been treated as political problems reserved for the state rather than matters to be addressed by the church.

Some Christians, though, are beginning to reassert this biblically mandated role by participating in health care sharing ministries (HCSM). HCSMs are not insurance companies, but nonprofit religious organizations that help members pay for medical treatments. These ministries have primarily been developed and promoted by evangelicals. But earlier this month a Catholic group launched a new HCSM:
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charity2How much of their incomes do Americans give to charity? A report by Chronicle of Philanthropy that analyzed taxpayers’ IRS data to find the answer:

On average, Americans give about 3 percent of their income to charity each year, according to the report released Monday. But the giving gap between the rich and poor is significant, especially in view of the widening income gap. The report shows those who earned $200,000 or more donated 4.6 percent less of their income between 2006 and 2012; those who earned less than $100,000 gave 4.5 percent more.

Why? Chronicle editor Stacy Palmer noted one factor: church attendance.

The top ten most generous states all have higher than average church attendance rates (and, as the report notes, they are all states that voted for Mitt Romney for president):
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Former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson declares a “war on poverty” – Jan. 8, 1964

Former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson declares a “war on poverty” – Jan. 8, 1964

Last week the U.S. Census Bureau released its report, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2013. The agency announced that “in 2013, the poverty rate declined from the previous year for the first time since 2006, while there was no statistically significant change in either the number of people living in poverty or real median household income.”

Sure to spark reactions from both sides of the political aisle, the report, along with this year’s 50th anniversary of the U.S. government’s launch of a “war on poverty,” present an opportunity to reflect on the effectiveness of the United States’ domestic poverty alleviation strategy to date.

But amid the necessary analysis and debate about government’s role in helping the least among us, it is essential to keep at the forefront of our thinking the primary figure poverty alleviation efforts are intended to help: the human person. Through taking the time to recognize each individual’s unique gifts and creative capacity, we can more fully appreciate his/her contribution to society and form relationships that enable this flourishing to take root.

Ismael Hernandez, founder and executive director of the Freedom and Virtue Institute, echoes the importance of recognizing people’s true nature. He says, “The person needs to be called by name, the ‘poor’ need for us to dump that label and look at them as unique and unrepeatable human beings, not simply another token belonging to an expansive and yet shallow sea of sameness.”

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