Posts tagged with: welfare

A few weeks ago Hunter Baker posted some thoughts on secularism and poverty, in which he wrote of the common notion that since private charity, particularly church-based care, had failed to end poverty, it seems only prudent to let the government have its chance.

Hunter points out some of the critically important elements in creating a culture of prosperity and abundance, what Micah Watson calls “cultural capital.”

But it’s worth examining in more detail the point of departure, that is, considering the relationship between the church’s approach to charity and the creation of the welfare state. Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef write of this in a brief essay contained in their book, The Deacons Handbook: A Manual of Stewardship, first published in 1980.

DeKoster and Berghoef argue in “The Church and the Welfare State” that “The Church is largely responsible for the coming of the modern welfare community.” But they also contend that the diaconal office is the key to answering the challenge posed by the welfare state: “The Church could be largely responsible for purging welfare of its faults and problems. IF enough deacons caught the vision!”

The church helped to bring about the welfare state in two ways. First, the Church embodied the idea of loving self-sacrifice in service of others. “The Word which the Church proclaims demands charity and justice for the poor. As this Word has permeated at least the Western world, an alerted public conscience has demanded public welfare,” write DeKoster and Berghoef. “The Church is the parent of the welfare community.”

But this “welfare community” became secularized when the Church “did not, and perhaps in some respects could not, measure up to her own ideals. Not all the starving were fed, not all of the homeless given shelter, not all of the oppressed and exploited relieved. The cries of the needy ascended to heaven. The Lord answered with the welfare state. The government undertakes to do what the Church demands and then fails to achieve by herself.”

In this sense, the welfare state is understood to be God’s preservational (thus imperfect) answer to the failed duty of the Church:

Thus the Church is, both by commission and by omission, author of the welfare state. Deacons start from here. Government has undertaken to do what conscience, tutored out of the Scriptures, demands but fails, through the Church, entirely to achieve.

In the brief essay Berghoef and DeKoster go on to outline some practical steps that can be taken to address this failing and rein in the scope of governmental responsibility. Some of these specifics need updating given what has happened in the United States over the last thirty years. But the vision of The Deacons Handbook, that the core of the answer lies in the diaconate, is a worthy and compelling insight.

Hunter will be pleased to note that among the practical advice given by Berghoef and DeKoster is that the meaning of the First Amendment needs to be reconsidered. Their advice for the deacon? “Do a study of what is so readily called ‘the separation of Church and state’.” This aligns with the argument Hunter makes in his new book, The End of Secularism.

This much remains true:

What is important, with an eye on tomorrow, is to discern what constructive relations may be developed between alert diaconates and public welfare. And it is immediately obvious that diaconates are uniquely qualified to amend what are commonly perceived as defects in the welfare system.

Check out an excerpt from the original edition of The Deacons Handbook containing the essay, “The Church and the Welfare State.” And sign up over at Christian’s Library Press to keep informed about upcoming releases in 2010, including new editions of The Deacons Handbook, The Elders Handbook, and more.

Deacons Handbook Excerpt

Mark Tooley pens another brilliant critique of the latest endeavors of the religious left in this piece titled “God’s Welfare State” in FrontPage Magazine. The commentary is a response marked with reason and clarity to left-leaning interfaith groups who are calling for more government programs and initiatives to tackle poverty. Tooley also notes in his piece that the signers of the letter calling for Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama to address their party conventions with a ten year plan to end poverty, are the usual suspects who equate “The federal welfare state with God’s Kingdom.” Tooley always seems to have a knack at getting to the heart of the issue, and he concludes by simply noting:

The left-leaning religious officials, guided by 100 years of statist Social Gospel, want to wage a government-led coercive struggle against “poverty” in the abstract. But most of their religious traditions express God’s love for specific poor people, while emphasizing voluntary and relational charity towards the needy. This historic stance of these religions towards the poor understandably has less appeal to the Religious Left, which often is more preoccupied with political power than with concrete compassion.

The Summer issue of City Journal features a piece worth reading by Guy Sorman titled “Economics Does Not Lie.” The paper includes weighty arguments favoring a free market economic system and the author does a good job explaining the rationale of those who criticize a free economy. Sorman says:

If economics is finally a science, what, exactly, does it teach? With the help of Columbia University economist Pierre-André Chiappori, I have synthesized its findings into ten propositions. Almost all top economists—those who are recognized as such by their peers and who publish in the leading scientific journals—would endorse them (the exceptions are those like Joseph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs, whose public pronouncements are more political than scientific). The more the public understands and embraces these propositions, the more prosperous the world will become.

These are the ten propositions put forward by Sorman:

1. The market economy is the most efficient of all economic systems.

2. Free trade helps economic development.

3. Good institutions help development. (governments & rule of law)

4. The best measure of a good economy is its growth.

5. Creative destruction is the engine of economic growth.

6. Monetary stability, too, is necessary for growth; inflation is always harmful.

7. Unemployment among unskilled workers is largely determined by how much labor costs.

8. While the welfare state is necessary in some form, it isn’t always effective.

9. The creation of complex financial markets has brought about economic progress.

10. Competition is usually desirable.

Sorman adds:

These ten propositions should guide all economic policymaking, and to an increasing degree they do, worldwide. Does this mean that we’ve reached an “end of history” in economics, to borrow a phrase made famous by Francis Fukuyama, by way of Hegel and Alexandre Kojève? In one sense, perhaps: economic science will never rediscover the virtues of hyperinflation or industrial nationalization. Some critics charge that economics is not a science in the way that, say, physics is—after all, economists can’t make precise predictions, as an exact science can. But this isn’t quite true: economists can predict that certain bad policies will lead necessarily to catastrophe. If economics, a human science, lacks the precision of physics, a natural one, it advances the same way—evolving from one theory to the next, each approximating a reality that eludes our complete grasp.

On a somewhat related note about economic policy, here is a review I wrote about the book Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism and the Economics of Growth and Prosperity. The review appeared in the Fall 2007 issue of Religion and Liberty.

A call to end poverty through more spending by the federal government is forever professed by some candidates and politicians. Maybe, they say, if just more money was appropriated and distributed this time, the results and relief for those in financial need would be conclusively different? Former President Clinton at least ran for office as a “new Democrat,” went on to declare the end of the era of big government, and signed welfare reform. Clinton was the first Democrat to win consecutive elections to the presidency since Franklin D. Roosevelt, cracking the Republican Party’s hold on the White House.

Some young voters are attracted to Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama because of his call to reshape society by empowering the federal government to spend even more on poverty programs. Young voters who are inspired by religious left icons are especially enamored with this not so new idea. Some older voters and still others who know their history are understandably hesitant to continue down that well traveled road.

Stephen Malanga reminds us once again in a recent piece in the City Journal that two parent married households are well equipped to overcome this trap. Malanga goes on to remind us that until the political sphere discusses the social and cultural plagues that promote poverty, “we can’t begin to take the necessary steps to reduce long term poverty.” Beginning in the 1960’s, another Democrat, the late former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan raised the issue of the emerging crisis of out of wedlock births and broken families and its relation to systemic poverty.

Fox News reports:

The nation’s poverty rate dropped last year, the first significant decline since President Bush took office. The Census Bureau reported Tuesday that 36.5 million Americans, or 12.3 percent — were living in poverty last year. That’s down from 12.6 percent in 2005. The median household income was $48,200, a slight increase from the previous year. But the number of people without health insurance also increased, to 47 million.

The last significant decline in the poverty rate came in 2000, during the Clinton administration. In 2005, the poverty rate dipped from 12.7 percent to 12.6 percent, but Census officials said that change was statistically insignificant.

The poverty numbers are good economic news at a time when financial markets have been rattled by a slumping housing market. However, the numbers released Tuesday represent economic conditions from a year ago.

The poverty level is the official measure used to decide eligibility for federal health, housing, nutrition and child care benefits. It differs by family size and makeup. For a family of four with two children, for example, the poverty level is $20,444. The poverty rate — the percentage of people living below poverty — helps shape the debate on the health of the nation’s economy.

Robert Rector, of the Heritage Foundation, reminds us of what it means to live as “the poor” in America:

The following are facts about persons defined as “poor” by the Census Bureau, taken from various government reports:

* Forty-six percent of all poor households actually own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.

* Seventy-six percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, 30 years ago, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.

* Only 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.

* The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)

* Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 30 percent own two or more cars.

* Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television; over half own two or more color televisions.

* Seventy-eight percent have a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.

* Seventy-three percent own microwave ovens, more than half have a stereo, and a third have an automatic dishwasher.

Important items to remember:

(1) Those living “in poverty” is never a static population. People cycle in and out of poverty over time.
(2) Unemployment numbers remain steady. Both the number of unemployed persons (7.1 million) and the unemployment rate (4.6 percent) were about unchanged in July. The jobless rate has ranged
from 4.4 to 4.6 percent since September 2006. (Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics)
(3) Raising the minimum wage will not reduce the poverty rate but increasing the number of jobs will in the short-term.
(4) The low-skilled labor market continues to experience job loss due to advances in technology (robots, “self-check out” lanes, etc.)
(5) There has been considerable job growth since 2003. On August 3, The Bureau Of Labor Statistics released new jobs figures. Since August 2003, more than 8.3 million jobs have been created, with more than 1.8 million jobs created over the twelve months ending in July. Our economy has now added jobs for 47 straight months.
(6) According to White House data:

(a) Real GDP Grew At A Strong 3.4 Percent In The Second Quarter Of 2007. The economy has now experienced nearly six years of uninterrupted growth, averaging 2.7 percent a year since 2001.

(b) Real After-Tax Per Capita Personal Income Has Risen By 11.4 Percent

(c) Real Wages Rose 1.3 Percent Over The 12 Months Ending In June. This is faster than the average rate during the 1990s, and it means an extra $782 in the past year for a family with two average wage earners.

(d) Since The First Quarter Of 2001, Productivity Growth Has Averaged 2.8 Percent Per Year. This is well above the average productivity growth in the 1990s, 1980s, and 1970s.

In the end, the current poverty rate reduction is simply a result of a combination of the factors listed above. In order to continue reductions in poverty the business sector needs more freedom to create jobs to meet the needs of our changing communities. Tax burdens and frivolous government regulation continue to stifle entrepreneurial creativity and innovation. Additionally, the moral dimensions of poverty need continued attention by the various mediating institutions like the church and other non-profits. Poverty is multi-layered and material solutions alone will not bring about long-term reductions.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, August 10, 2007
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Here are some book reviews of note from recent weeks that you may find to be of interest:

I wrote a few comments explaining why John Edwards’ recent poverty tour may serve as good rhetoric but, in the end, demonstrates very poor economic thinking. His ideas essentially represent the failed “war on poverty” initiatives that came out of LBJ’s “Great Society” foolishness. It’s a 2007 remix of a few old, tired, played out ideologies. The programs didn’t work in the 70s and 80s and they won’t work if Edwards becomes president. Edwards wants to raise the minimum wage to nearly $9.50/hour. Where does Edwards expect that money to come from? In the long run, these ideas eventually hurt the poor as we witnessed before Congress overhauled welfare in 1996.

You can read my comments at the Detroit News as well an extended version of the same editorial here at the Acton Institute.

Blog author: abradley
Friday, July 27, 2007
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For some reason, I had never thought about what pro-life socialist policies might look like. But today, Jim Wallis’s Sojourner’s blog covered a Los Angeles Times story about a strategy shift in the Democratic party to support a House bill “designed not only to prevent unwanted pregnancies, but also to encourage women who do conceive to carry to term.”

Passed last week in the House with strong bi-partisan support, the bill provides millions of federal dollars to:

• Counsel more young women in crisis to consider adoption, not abortion.

• Launch an ad campaign to inform needy women that they can receive healthcare and other resources if they are “preparing for birth.”

• Expand parenting education and medical services for pregnant women, in some cases by sending nurses to their homes.

• Offer day care at federal job-training centers to help new mothers become self-sufficient.

According to the L.A. Times piece, the House is also considering a separate measure that would fund maternity and day-care centers on college campuses so “pregnant students won’t feel they must have an abortion to stay in school.”

So, leaving this open for discussion — Is this bill a step in the right direction that Christians should welcome and embrace as “life-affirming”? (If we federally fund abortions now, isn’t it better to federally fund moral alternatives?) Or is it just a political tactic to win over conscientious, religious voters while steeping them in the socialist principles of universal health care on their own ground? (Abortion is certainly more emotional for such voters than the worn-out, transparent appeals for federal health control they’ve heard in the past. And if much of the newly-allocated money goes to Planned Parenthood anyway, isn’t it just a wolf in sheep’s clothing?)

Perhaps it’s not enough for Christians to be “single-issue voters” on the abortion issue. Maybe what lies beneath the pro-life rhetoric matters, too. And when considering any act of the state, our only question should not be “is it a good idea?” — we should also ask the more important question, “Is it the government’s place?”

Blog author: rnothstine
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
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John Edwards formally kicked off his poverty tour in New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward this week and of course blamed the president for the government’s mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Edwards also played up symbolism by visiting some of the samel cities Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy visited during their famed poverty tours. Edwards may not significantly differ from other Democratic front runners for the White House, although some say he is the only candidate with a truly universal health care program.

Edwards does however stand out from the field of Democratic front runners in terms of actually visiting impoverished locations, although not always to the delight of everybody in the region. In addition, there is not a lot of vote power or political contributions likely to emerge from the places he stopped on his poverty tour. He is often accused of orchestrating a well crafted political strategy for trying to draw attention to the nation’s poor, while attempting to distance himself from recent criticisms of his own affluence and lavish spending. Even in the age of overly scripted politicians he should be given the benefit of the doubt, and acknowledged for raising awareness to a critically important moral issue, although his solutions lack the right method for addressing poverty.

While the language and symbolism of his tour is recycled Great Society rhetoric, it adds a dynamic reminder of the failed attempt at combating poverty through massive federal spending and initiative. Of course, that’s not Edwards’ intention but he helps us recall these failed policies.

Lyndon Johnson in his first State of The Union Address declared “an unconditional war on poverty in America.” The same president vowed to “not rest until that war is won.” The War on Poverty in fact institutionalized poverty by trapping people in a vicious cycle of dependency. No doubt, there won’t be any talk of meaningful tax cuts, deregulation, and economic freedom in the Edwards poverty tour. If there is one legacy the Great Society left, it is that the government is not a job or wealth creator — the entrepreneur creates jobs and wealth. Jesus himself proclaims the “poor shall always be with us,” and so shall well meaning but misguided poverty tours.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, January 26, 2007
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“No committee, arguably, has more power or attracts more lobbyists than the Committee on Ways and Means,” writes the NYT’s Robin Toner. “Representative Charles B. Rangel, Democrat of New York, joined the committee in 1975, and now, at the age of 76, has finally arrived at the very top.”

“[Jesus] said the rich are going straight to hell.”

Jared Bernstein, a liberal economist, said: “When the Ways and Means Committee has worked well, they’ve identified social needs and advocated for the funds to meet them. Will this committee do that? I hope so.”

What does this mean for Rangel’s chairmanship? “Chairmen of the 218-year-old committee have traditionally been at the center of the great debates, including how to support a growing elderly population and how to deal with the excesses of capitalism.”

You can expect Rangel to engage economic issues from a similar rhetorical perspective, a liberal one that seeks “to cushion workers in this rough, new, competitive environment.” But as Toner also observes that “the ideological gulf between the two parties is vast, not just on tax cuts, but on the role of government versus the private market in areas like health care.”

In recognition of Rep. Rangel’s new position, we offer this moment from the Acton Institute’s history. Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president of the Acton Institute, and Rep. Rangel share the following exchange during Rev. Sirico’s testimony before the Ways and Means Committee in 1995 on welfare reform:



For more on Rangel’s views of religion, wealth, poverty, and charity, check out the dialog from an appearance on Hardball with Chris Matthews, where Rangel asserts that Jesus said that “the rich are going straight to hell.”