Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Welfare vs Charity

Michael E, thank you for posting.  I'd like to drive your point even further:

Let's pretend we know someone is in need.  I mean, everyone reading this knows there's this, say, family, that is in need.  We have two ideas on the table about how to help them:

1) Let's agree to have everyone put $100 in a fund.  We'll have an election to see who will collect the money and deliver it to the family.  We'll provide that person with a few percent of the fund in return for making sure everyone contributed.  If anyone refuses, either we'll get their employer (or whoever owes them money) to put it in the fund before paying them, or else lock them in a cage for a while.  Maybe both.

2) Let's each provide whatever we feel like providing, directly, to the family.

Many people very strongly believe that the family will benefit more if we use the first idea, which is the one our government has implemented.  Whether or not it's an ethical plan is something they haven't considered (isn't it obviously unethical?) because the amount isn't $100.  It's more like 30 cents or maybe three cents.

But let's pretend for a moment that there isn't anything immoral about it.  Pretend you're a member of the family in need. 

Do you have dignity?  Do you have honor and integrity?  What is your response to the elected official bringing you money to help you out?  A fund, you have to remember, that you were forced to contribute to when you weren't needy enough.  Are you grateful?  Or would "expectant", "entitled", or "demanding" be more accurate?  Perhaps you are grateful. 

Now suppose that we used idea #2 instead, and you didn't get enough money, because people just aren't generous enough.  Are you more "demanding/expectant/entitled", or more grateful?  Let's suppose that you are more demanding simply because your needs haven't been met.  You sarcastically say "Gee, Thanks A LOT!" to the people who give you quarters and pennies.  But because of that need, wouldn't you be pretty motivated to find and engage in useful work to earn what you need? 

Now let's switch back to idea #1, where you do get enough, and it comes from an official fund.  How motivated are you in that case?

You can argue that you would be just as grateful and kind with #1 as with #2.  You can also argue that you'd be just as motivated with #1 as with #2.  If that's true, then you're an angel.  I know that I'm a pretty good person, but not that good, and I can't believe that anywhere close to half the people in need are that good either. 

Welfare damages motivation, which makes it impractical.  It also requires what most would consider stealing or kidnapping.  It's an immoral and impractical solution to the problem of poverty.


StarLizard said...


While I agree with a lot of what you've illustrated here, some questions beg to be answered.

Your scenario is less than specific. Why does the family need money? Are they simply lazy, unmotivated individuals who need to get off their asses and find jobs to support themselves and their family? Or are the circumstances more grim?

Say I am a stay-at-home mother of 3 young children whose husband died suddenly or just decided to hightail it and join the circus without leaving a return address. I have no money for food, let alone for hiring a baby sitter while I look for a job to support my family. And say I do find a job, one that in all likeliness won't pay that well because I haven't had any work experience in so many years, who's going to look after my kids while I try to provide for them?

And forget trying to get one of those spam jobs that have me assemble necklaces at home, or sell Avon products in an economy where everyone is cutting costs.

Charity, while great, is rarely enough. While I think (or like to think, anyway), that I would always be grateful for charity should I really be in a bind, it doesn't mean that I wouldn't think to myself 'I am grateful for these generous donations and everyone who spared a few dollars to help me, but how am I going to make the rent this month?'.

Maybe the answer isn't found in charity or welfare. Maybe those in need should have access to community programs designed to help them find ways to find good jobs, develop skills, live on a smaller budget, get back on their feet. Maybe their kids can be taken care of during the day in exchange for a few hours spent helping new members of these programs. I don't know, but I think that learning to help yourself is always a great first step to take, even though you might need a little monetary boost to get started. That's what Missions do in Canada for homeless people. Why wait until they're homeless when there are so many families struggling, people who could benefit from this kind of help before losing everything?

Great post. Something (as always) to think about.

Dave Scotese said...

Ooh I like questions!

When someone is in need, the analysis I provide should remain unaffected by the reasons they are in need. Your scenario with the destitute mother is heartbreaking. However, forcing other people to pay up in order to support this woman remains, as I point out in my article, both immoral and impractical. In her case, my article should mention her willingness to accept and honor those who show compassion, rather than her motivation "to find and engage in useful work to earn what [she] need[s]".

Of course charity isn't enough. Why should it be? You have to understand what the government has been doing to its citizens for decades, and how it affects them. We can't justify the continuation of such evil simply because getting rid of it will hurt. Remember the story in the bible of the bread and fishes? No one gets that OBVIOUSLY all those people were hiding their own food, waiting for others to be generous.

"That's what Missions do in Canada for homeless people." - that's either charity, or it's an investment on the part of the mission. I think it's charitable, and honorable and good too. Unless, of course, they are funded through taxation. Then we're back to the immorality of such a solution.

The reason "society" waits "until they're homeless when there are so many families struggling..." is that we've been taught that it's a problem for the government to solve (by forcing us to pay for it) and we aren't smart enough to see how much that raises the cost through fraud, waste, and coercion.