“We need transformation, relief, and opportunity…in that order,” says AEI’s Arthur Brooks in a new video on conservatism and poverty alleviation. “Transformation starts with culture. Transformation is faith, family, community, and work…That’s the beginning of getting people into the process of rising.”
While serving in an inner city ministry, Ismael Hernandez began to have doubts about whether he was effectively serving the poor. “For the first time in my ministry work I felt dissatisfied with what I was doing,” says Hernandez. “I saw that I was simply a ‘stuff-giver’, a bureaucrat of compassion, and under the weight of the free stuff I was dumping at the poor was their spirit, slouching aimlessly, awaiting.” He realized that the human person is not only called to change but also to choose:
Christian anthropology asserts that from the beginning of our lives we are created as subjects, not objects moved by forces; even if these forces are well intended. In pursuit of the safety that a parasitic life offers, some find comfort in the boredom of meaningless life or on the pity of others. The truth is that much of what we were doing for the poor was about ourselves and how it made us feel. We began and ended in moral posture that justified our endless call for resources to pass on to others; never daring to challenge the poor themselves, as that was blaming the victim. We had become the brokers and middlemen of a flow of goods passing from a set of hands to another but barely making a dent in the condition of those who ended up with the loot.
Read the rest to hear Hernandez’s five essential principles of poverty-alleviation.
“Why, if we have made such great strides reducing poverty,” asks Scott Winship, “is there such widespread belief that, to quote Ronald Reagan, ‘We fought a war on poverty, and poverty won’?”
We won the War on Poverty in the sense that the prevalence of material hardship has declined. According to Meyer and Sullivan, just 8 percent of Americans live at the low standard of living endured by a third of Americans in 1963. But it was a limited and costly victory. Elderly entitlements will bankrupt the country moving forward. Great Society-style no-strings-attached welfare may have had behavioral and cultural impacts that have hurt child opportunity at the bottom. Upward mobility has not expanded. The conservative turn toward welfare reform after 1980 and the limited embrace of a work-promoting safety net by New Democrats produced an important shift in anti-poverty policy, but historically conservatives have not been constructively engaged in formulating a positive opportunity agenda for children at the bottom. That this is changing is the most hopeful sign in domestic policy in some time.
The New York Times unwittingly highlights many of the points from the Acton Commentary, Maria Shriver’s Big, Big Government Rescue Plan For Women. In a piece entitled “Sarah’s Uncertain Path,” the Times takes a look at poverty in America, focusing on a pregnant 15 year old girl.
Sarah’s family certainly has a rough go of it. And the Times would lead us to believe, just as the aforementioned Government Rescue Plan, that Sarah’s family and those like them are victims:
There is a myth in America: if you have a strong moral compass, work hard and make good choices, you will have equal opportunity. But after two years of listening to and documenting low-income families in rural America…we have witnessed a starkly unequal playing field.
Michael J. Totten has a new piece on his travels through Cuba, this one focused on rural Cuba. “Most of the Cuban landscape I saw is already deforested,” he writes. “It’s just not being used. It’s tree-free and fallow ex-farmland. I’ve never seen anything like it, though parts of the Soviet Union may have looked similar.”
Economists refer to this sort of thing as “the tragedy of the commons,” and nobody does it well as the communists.
Parts of the travelogue are surreal:
Castro’s checkpoints are there to ensure nobody has too much or the wrong kind of food.
Police officers pull over cars and search the trunk for meat, lobsters, and shrimp. They also search passenger bags on city busses in Havana. Dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote about it sarcastically in her book, Havana Real. “Buses are stopped in the middle of the street and bags inspected to see if we are carrying some cheese, a lobster, or some dangerous shrimp hidden among our personal belongings.”
If they find a side of beef in the trunk, so I’m told, you’ll go to prison for five years if you tell the police where you got it and ten years if you don’t.
No one is allowed to have lobsters in Cuba. You can’t buy them in stores, and they sure as hell aren’t available on anyone’s ration card. They’re strictly reserved for tourist restaurants owned by the state. Kids will sometimes pull them out of the ocean and sell them on the black market, but I was warned in no uncertain terms not to buy one. I stayed in hotels and couldn’t cook my own food anyway. And what was I supposed to do, stash a live lobster in my backpack?
The full essay is here.
Many people believe laws to protect ownership and private property primarily favor the wealthy. But as Prof. Dan Russell explains, lack of property protections can lead to abject poverty.
“Each of us has a personal responsibility to heed the call to care for the poor,” says Jennifer A. Marshall. “The Bible doesn’t leave us room to make poverty someone else’s problem.”
Long before LBJ’s call to combat poverty, Christians heard a higher call to compassion for the poor. How to live out that biblical command in the context of 21st-century America is the challenge. And it’s one that thinkers such as Sherman, author of the book Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, have encouraged Christians to think about more deeply.
Good intentions, they argue, aren’t enough. Truly effective compassion means striving for human flourishing and seeking the conditions that make it possible. The good news is that the good news has equipped the church for the kind of relational restoration of individuals and communities that is so urgently needed for fighting poverty in America today.
[. . .]
Effective compassion doesn’t settle for handouts; it strives for true human flourishing that goes beyond material need. Made in the image of God, human beings are by nature relational. Brian Fikkert, co-author of the book When Helping Hurts, suggests that four fundamental relationships are essential: right relationship with God, self, others, and the created world.
Seeking holistic thriving helps us keep the created dignity of those we serve at the heart of our efforts—while also keeping us in touch with our own needs in these spheres. In our pursuit of flourishing, we need to consider how appropriate roles for marriage and family, church, business, and government—not to mention personal responsibility—can help prevent and overcome poverty. Effective compassion draws on all these roles and calls for right relationships among them.
In today’s National Review Online, leading economists are asked to comment on the 50th anniversary of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” Acton’s Director of Research, Sam Gregg, weighs in:
As we know now, Johnson’s offensive against poverty did not have the impact envisaged by its progenitors. By the early 1970s, the failure was stark. Even today, this failure remains Exhibit A for the ineffectiveness of government intervention when confronting many economic problems. Not that this has led to any major rethinking on the part of most modern leftists when it comes to their conviction that you really cannot have enough state intervention or spend enough taxpayers’ money when you’re addressing an issue like poverty. Their approach remains unchanged: Pass more laws and throw more dollars at the problem. (more…)
I was reading an essay that I found in an old book I bought in Vermont. Dr H.J. Laski (Oxford and Yale) wrote, “The less obvious the differences between men in the gain of living, the greater the bond of fellowship between them.” In other words the less we talk about differences between the rich and poor, the better we will all like each other and get along. In the Depression which began as he was writing, nearly everyone was poor.
Those more cheerful days of fellowship ended with Michael Harrington’s The Other America written in 1962. Harrington described and defined the poor in America not as the lower working class (think coal miners back then) or as ghetto dwellers, but as The Poor. We declared a $7 trillion War on Poverty during 1960s, apparently with no adequate outcome as we still have 48 million people poor enough to be on food stamps.
The “bond of fellowship” has little chance today as it faces a daily reminder that the rich are very rich and that they are a sort of enemy of the poor. If the rich, the argument goes, would give up a small fraction of their immense profits or wealth then the poor would all be earning a “living wage.” That’s the energy behind the talk now of the $15/hr minimum wage.
Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson gave his 1964 State of the Union Speech, in which he launched the ‘war on poverty.’ Within four years of that speech, the Johnson administration enacted a broad ran of programs, including the the Job Corps, Upward Bound, Head Start, the Neighborhood Youth Corps, the Social Security amendments creating Medicare/Medicaid, the creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and over a dozen others.
Here are a few numbers related to governmental efforts to eradicate poverty in America: