An exceedingly honest woman called into an Austin, Texas, radio talk show, KLBJ, to discuss why she chooses not to work. She, her husband and three children rely on tax dollars for shelter, utilities and food. She admits that her parents did not work either, and that free money and programs were offered all the time. And what’s wrong with that?
Hawaii is consistently ranked as one of the states where most Americans want to live. But for many residents, the island life is more nightmare than tropical dream. The high cost of living and lack of affordable housing contributes to Hawaii having one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country.
The state government has attempted to address the crisis in ways that are sometimes as creative as they are disturbing. Earlier this year, the state legislature voted to establish a program that would pay for a one-way ticket to send homeless residents to the mainland. The program was dubbed a “return-to-home” program despite the fact that more than half of the homeless population being lifetime residents or people who lived in Hawaii a minimum of 20 years.
But that program created by the state’s lawmakers seems downright compassionate compared to how one individual state lawmaker is addressing the problem. State Rep. Tom Brower (D.) roams the streets of his district armed with a sledgehammer and smashes any shopping carts he finds that are used by the homeless:
Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute released a recent policy analysis that raises important questions about whether or not we should completely re-conceptualize how to provide food for the truly disadvantaged. In “SNAP Failure: The Food Stamp Program Needs Reform” Tanner argues The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is currently crippled by high administrative costs, significant fraud and abuse, and weakening of standards. Tanner notes that SNAP breeds greater dependence on government, and, even worse, seems to have negligible long-term effectiveness in eliminating food deficiencies for the truly disadvantaged.
The statistics are overwhelming. Using primarily government data, Tanner observes that the poverty is politicized in Congress through the framing of food stamps as fulfilling two separate goals—“improved levels of nutrition” and “strengthening the agricultural economy.” This created the “bipartisan” support that has exploded funding and served the interests of both political parties. Everybody wins, except for the poor. According to Tanner, “Since 2000, spending on SNAP increased from just $17 billion per year to more than $78 billion in 2012, a greater than fourfold increase.” The increase in spending cannot even be blamed on the recession. According to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates, 35 percent of the program’s growth from 2007 to 2011 was not a result of economic factors in the country.
The factors that have created the expansion include:
During the government shutdown billionaire philanthropists Laura and John Arnold gave $10 million to the National Head Start Association to keep the program for low-income children running. Mr. Arnold made it clear, however, that he did not believe this was a permanent solution, as “private dollars cannot in the long term replace government commitments.”
But some people thought Arnold’s generosity itself undermined the government’s power. As The Nation’s Amy Schiller said, “The entire shutdown is undergirded by a fantasy of a world in which the government’s power is vastly reduced and private citizens step into the breach with better, more innovative ideas for solving social challenges.”
Although Ballor’s book is very accessible, the reading is by no means “light.” I would call it “engaging heavy reading.” While the concepts are clear and the analogies riveting, Ballor has a way of putting so much into a sentence that it can take some time to work through his ideas. I found myself time and time again putting the book down for a few minutes to digest a thought, or re-reading a paragraph to make sure I followed the contours of his thought. There is a lot here, and it is thought provoking. Whether one agrees with all of Ballor’s ideas or not, he offers clarifying insights into many aspects of Christian social thought and action. Even where I disagreed with Ballor, I found his writing helpful for articulating my own positions.
A few basic assumptions underlie Ballor’s work, assumptions that would not surprise anyone familiar with Christian tradition. Central to Ballor’s thesis is the fact that human beings are created in the imago dei, the image of God. Like God, we are naturally oriented to love. Like God, we are naturally creative and industrious. Like God, we are naturally inclined to give of ourselves for the sake of others. Of course, because of the fall of humanity into sin, these naturally inclinations and orientations have been corrupted and twisted by evil. Nevertheless, there remains a natural order of things, inherent in creation and revealed in Scripture, towards which we as responsible human persons ought to strive: love for our neighbor, care for creation, industry, community, procreation, responsible use of resources (in all senses), and mutual recognition and respect of one another’s humanity.
One particularly poignant theme that Ballor strikes home again and again in the book is the nature of human beings as social persons in community, and the corresponding responsibility that we have to that community, which always was, but increasingly (and obviously) is global.
If you are looking for good data to provide a reminder that America has lost the “War On Poverty,” Michael Tanner has compiled helpful information explaining the current state of the union in the study titled, “The American Welfare State: How We Spend Nearly $1 Trillion a Year Fighting Poverty — And Fail.” Tanner begins by noting that we are now at a point where annually,
[T]he federal government will spend more than $668 billion on at least 126 different programs to fight poverty. And that does not even begin to count welfare spending by state and local governments, which adds $284 billion to that figure. In total, the United States spends nearly $1 trillion every year to fight poverty. That amounts to $20,610 for every poor person in America, or $61,830 per poor family of three.
While welfare spending has continued to increase, poverty rates in America have basically remained the same as they were 40 years ago. In fact, though we as a nation have spent nearly $15 trillion in total welfare spending since Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in 1964, several families in rural and inner-city America continue to be trapped in generational cycles of dependency. Something is not working.
In a New York Times op-ed, Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and author, declared, “Rich People Just Care Less.” How does he know this? Because studies have been done. So there. Rich people lack empathy, don’t listen to people lower on the social ladder than themselves, and
…seem to pay particularly little attention to those with the least power. To be sure, high-status people do attend to those of equal rank — but not as well as those low of status do.
Except, it’s not quite true. It’s a little off. Skewed. Downright…flawed. (more…)
One the best arguments against the growing tentacles of the social assistance welfare state into the lives of people who are suffering is the practice of the Christian practice of adoption and orphan care.
Progressives often charge classical liberals and conservatives as being heartless toward the poor because only progressives are willing to make sacrifices for the poor. Of course, the progressive method is usually to use force to solicit the help. Nevertheless, one of the ways in which Christians have stood out in their respective societies in various countries throughout the world for nearly 2,000 years is by practicing the public virtue of adopting the children that others cannot raise or do not want to raise, and caring for orphans. It is derived from a clear teaching in the book of James: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (1:27, ESV). Adoption is simply an extension of what it means to love God and love neighbor (Matt 22:36-40).
A few days ago, a couple I know told an amazing story of adopting a newborn:
I’m not an aficionado of the show Extreme Couponing, but I have seen it a couple times, and have been amazed at the industriousness of the people on the show. It shouldn’t be surprising, perhaps, that in the midst of economic downturn more generally the practice of clipping coupons has become more widespread as well as more extreme.
It makes sense that when times are tight and you are looking to scrimp and save every penny in your budget that increased use of coupons can be a way to make each dollar stretch a bit farther. Companies originally offered coupons as incentives to try new products, and so it is appropriate to see coupons as a form of advertising. The first company to offer coupons was Coca-Cola, and here we can see the similarities between coupons and the free samples, which is part of what makes Costco so popular, as product promotion.
But it never really occurred to me until I read this short profile of an extreme couponer that coupons should also really be seen as a kind of private welfare, reaching a high of roughly $4 billion in total savings in the US in 2011.
The newest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality has been published. The issue is available in digital format online and should be arriving in print in the next few weeks for subscribers. Volume 16, no. 1 is a theme issue on the topic of “Integral Human Development,” which was the focus of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate. He writes,
The development We speak of here cannot be restricted to economic growth alone. To be authentic, it must be well rounded; it must foster the development of each man and of the whole man.
In this light, this most recent issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality focuses on the goal of development with the broadest possible conceptions, combining insights from the disciplines of theology, philosophy, ethics, economics, and law, in order to explore the complex goal of lifting people out of all forms of poverty — whether material, spiritual, or otherwise — so that they can better fulfill their God-given potential and vocations. (more…)