GAGA: The Insidiousness of Assuaging Guilt with Government

August 19, 2012 | 73 comments
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By Samuel M. & Alison Moore Smith

On August 11, 2012, a politically charged discussion began on Facebook among some church members. One man posted a link to an article written by his former dissertation advisor, Steve Schneck. While the article did little to claim ownership of “subsidiarity,” it did bring out some strong opinions.

[Note: The Facebook post and comments referenced here were not private. They were posted on a wall that (at this writing) is still set to public availability. Originally this post quoted the actual conversation as it occurred. I was asked to remove some of the actual quotes and the names. I have done so, but would have preferred to leave the real quotes so that the reader could judge the veracity of the statements as opposed to a paraphrased version. I will do my best to leave the actual intent intact. If the commenters are willing to have their names and/or actual quotes presented here, I will be happy to oblige.]

The first comment on the thread referred to Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. It stated that they were a Mormon and a Catholic who didn’t care for the poor.

I (Alison) responded next:

Or maybe “caring for the poor” is about personal responsibility, not taking from others so we can sleep better.

A third commenter, piped up stating that I had demonstrated myself to be a second Mormon who did not care for the poor.

Romney has given millions and millions to charitable causes over his lifetime — likely far more than anyone accusing him of not caring for the poor. In spite of the implication, neither the accuser nor anyone else in the discussion has any knowledge of my (Alison’s) personal charitable work, and didn’t ask. Still the narrative that conservatives are necessarily greedy, selfish, and unconcerned for anything but their pocketbooks is far too common.

Contrary to oft-repeated accusations or stereotypes, the issue is not a lack of compassion or concern. Amongst people we know, one nearly universal characteristic is the feeling of both compassion and obligation — or guilt — for those “less fortunate.”

What we mean by “guilt” is that when one sees the poor, downtrodden, or starving — whether it be in person or otherwise — we are struck with “pangs of conscience” that compel us to help them. The visceral reaction tends to be, “I should do something to help them! What if I were in the same position as this person, wouldn’t I want someone to help me?”

While there are some few who are so hardened and self-interested that they have no concern for the plight of others, typically people of all types and degrees of political and religious disposition experience this “guilt.” Indeed it may be one of the truly defining characteristics of humanity to have a sense of obligation to help those in need.

The counter-genetic (not cultural) evolutionary nature of this altruistic imperative that all humans share (except for the sociopathic), is what largely convinced Francis Collins, author of The Language of God: A Scientist Present Evidence for Belief, the scientific leader of the human genome project and professed atheist to forsake atheism. For the purposes of this discussion it doesn’t matter if the guilt is based on religious concepts of moral conscience such as the Light of Christ, the Holy Ghost, or on nonreligious morality caused by cultural inculcation.

Rather, the issue is not whether we have these feelings of guilt, but what do we do about them? The pain itself doesn’t provide any guidance. We must use reason to determine the course of action.

In a traditional communal society, exemplified by a close-knit, isolated farming village, the most appropriate guilt-motivated response to the perceived need is often acutely apparent. (Provide food, shelter, clothing, etc.)

In a modern distributed society where personal relationships are far flung and increasingly virtual, the most appropriate guilt-motivated response to the perceived need is chronically abstruse.

Recognizing this, our feelings of guilt are often followed by a sense of powerlessness to really help, an awareness that the problems of those in need is greater than one person can solve. To do so could exhaust our resources and plunge us into the same state as those we would choose to help.

In the above mentioned discussion, the first commenter took one approach to address this powerlessness:

…charities will never be stable enough, large enough, with the full capability required, to help all, or at least most, of the poor of any given country. They will always lag behind the capability of governmental programs…The beauty is that, because I am one of 300 million, my cost to providing these wonderful services is low. I can go on living my life knowing that I have helped out millions of people without breaking my own bank or anyone else’s bank.

What’s interesting about this statement is not that he claims the efficaciousness of government programs in actually elimating poverty and need, but that government programs assuage his guilt without his own personal sacrifice — whether they necessarily solve the problem or not.

We call this Government As Guilt Assuager (GAGA), where in the primary attraction of government programs is to simultaneously relieve the pain of our guilt without causing pain by taking a too big bite out of our personal resources.

The criteria for popularity and support for the government program is not its efficacy in eliminating poverty but its relative cost effectiveness in alleviating the pain of the associated guilt.

GAGA is particularly insideous because we believe that having the pain of guilt — a fundamental motivator to human action — should not be removed by governmental programs unless they actually alleviate the suffering of the needy.

The insidiousness does not stop there, as the deleterious side effects of taking resources from the private sector to fund government programs have many unintended and harmful consequences than can make the government programs on net counter productive. And too often those effects aren’t recognized.

Given that trillions have been poured into the “war on poverty” over the past decades — only to see the poverty rate rise — we believe that the onus should be on those proposing more of the same, to show that more, or even the status quo, is really an appropriate and efficient use of resources.

GAGA is a narcotic for the liberal masses. They can feel good about having helped the needy at little personal cost — even though government programs have not demonstrated a long term reduction in the suffering of the needy.

The proper role of government is not to make people feel better for doing little or nothing.

[We welcome thoughtful disagreement and contrasting points of view. Ad hominem and general snark will be deleted without comment.]

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73 Responses to GAGA: The Insidiousness of Assuaging Guilt with Government

  1. Jonathan Green on August 19, 2012 at 2:26 am

    Fortunately, those government programs are efficient and effective, so it’s not just about assuaging feelings, it’s also about making sure hungry people have food, and access to health care, and all sorts of other fantastic things.

    I’m not quite sure why you’re so upset that some people might feel good about government programs.

  2. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 2:41 am

    The American Welfare State: How We Spend Nearly $1 Trillion a Year Fighting Poverty—and Fail

    Since 1964, $15 trillion to “care for the poor,” spending rising 375% in inflation adjusted dollars. Poverty level has gone from 19% to 15.1%. Government spends $61,830 per poor family of three to alleviate a “poverty line” of $18,530 — which should have pushed everyone out of poverty more than three times over. Effective? Efficient?

    FTR, we answered your question in the OP. See above.

  3. Euthyphronics on August 19, 2012 at 2:52 am

    You correctly note that nobody in the discussion has any knowledge of your personal charitable work and (rightly) insist that we not judge you as though you do. Fair enough. But then you turn around and judge those liberals among us in the same way:

    “… the primary attraction of government programs is to simultaneously relieve the pain of our guilt without causing pain by taking a too big bite out of our personal resources,”

    which implies that our own independent (i.e., non-government-run) charitable giving is pretty weak, and we’re just using government to make us feel better about that. But for all you know, a lot of us calling for more governmental assistance also volunteer our time, talents, and resources in all manner of charitable works. In my experience, the soup kitchens and homeless shelters are staffed by far more liberals than conservatives — liberals who work their fingers to the bone for the needy and who, heart aching that they can’t do more, fervently wish the government would.

    As for the political candidates: I can’t say anything about Romney, because the longer I watch him the less idea I have about what he believes. But Ryan, at least, claims Ayn Rand as his inspiration, even if he’s rejected the atheist aspects of her philosophy. And that philosophy explicitly rejects all forms of charity, whether public or private. Make of that what you will.

  4. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 3:08 am

    Euthyphronics, the case of the “bleeding heart tightwad” (not my term, that coined by liberal journalist Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times) is well documented.

    That said, there is quite a difference between stating that a particular person you’ve never met doesn’t care for the poor and putting forth a general position statement about how problematic and costly programs — that have not been proven to actually work — continue to get support from well-meaning people.

    It is our position that one of the main (among four we have so far identified) reasons — and likely the most common — is that explicitly stated by Dubei. He can feel like he has helped millions without it hurting his bottom line.

  5. DeeAnn on August 19, 2012 at 3:09 am

    Allison,
    Nice post. I think it’s important for both sides to realize we want the same thing, ultimately (at least the majority do), but we disagree on the best way to make that happen. I will defend and respect anyone’s right to their opinions, but there is no place for name-calling. There’s too much of that going around these days.

    As a mostly conservative, sort-of a moderate, occasionally agreeing with the left kind of person, I do see wisdom in basic government safety nets. But I don’t see government as the ultimate solution to societies problems. Those problems can only be fixed with more personal and frankly spiritual help that government just cannot provide. Yeah for private, charitable and religious organizations and those who donate to them! And super Yeah for those who actually take the time to make a difference in someone else’s life on a personal level.

  6. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 3:11 am

    DeeAnn, I agree wholeheartedly.

  7. Dan on August 19, 2012 at 4:50 am

    by the way Alison,

    I hope you got Daniel’s permission to use his name. That discussion seemed like a private discussion on someone’s personal page.

  8. Suleiman on August 19, 2012 at 4:53 am

    Government safety nets don’t change people. But they do stop/prevent disasters.

    I wonder if the emphasis should be on providing hope and tools for human beings to change their lives. I also wonder why conservatives are such vocal critics of government safety nets.

  9. Robert Rundquist on August 19, 2012 at 5:01 am

    Alison:
    You show the Poverty level has gone down from 19% to 15.1%(?)
    ” Government spends $61,830… Is the the total amount since 1964?

  10. Mark D. on August 19, 2012 at 6:09 am

    But Ryan, at least, claims Ayn Rand as his inspiration, even if he’s rejected the atheist aspects of her philosophy

    What part of Rand’s philosophy do you suppose he actually rejects? The hostility to charity perhaps? Is there a theist on the planet who is opposed to charity? To first approximation, the promotion of charity is the only reason for theism to exist.

  11. Aaron on August 19, 2012 at 6:13 am

    Here’s an interesting statistic: 76 percent of food stamp recipients are either poor children, poor seniors or poor disabled. Can any fair-minded person accuse them of being lazy and unwilling to work or work harder? Can any fair-minded person realy, truly say government should not assist such people? This is what governments in most modern, industrialized nations do, they help the poorest and weakest among their citizens. I have no problem with it and I don’t resent my tax dollars being used in this way. And that doesn’t mean I lean back and feel my job is done and I don’t need to do anything to help any individual I know who is in need. That I do in addition to what is done on my behalf through my taxes. If only I could manage to pay 13 percent in taxes, gosh, just think how much more good I could do?

  12. Grant Hardy on August 19, 2012 at 6:16 am

    The War on Poverty is a difficult, perhaps intractable issue that is affected by a host of factors, including education, infrastructure, employment opportunities, and international trade policies (because poverty around the world should be our concern as much as poverty in the US). When I think of my moral responsibility to my fellow Americans, I most often think of health care, and the fact that just about every other developed nation spends about half of what the US spends per person and yet manages to provide universal coverage for their citizens. There are a variety of methods that have been utilized in different countries to achieve that goal, with different mixes of public and private resources, but it seems to me that if we really cared about the well-being of our neighbors and reducing government spending on health-care, we would adopt a Canadian-style system (or something quite like it) as soon as possible. No amount private donations by you or me or people like us will get everyone in our country the basic healthcare that they need. I feel guilty that I live in a nation in which thirty million of our citizens have little access to health care outside of emergency rooms, and I feel guilty that I don’t pay more in taxes when there there are clearly workable, cost-efficient models for the government to follow in alleviating at least some of the greatest challenges facing the sick and the needy, the poor and the afflicted. (And yes, I have Canadians in my extended family who are very happy with the health care they receive, who think that the US is nuts on this issue.)

  13. Katie on August 19, 2012 at 6:40 am

    “GAGA is a narcotic for the liberal masses.” ouch.

    I am disappointed in this post for so many reasons. Not the least seems to be the utter disdain (and demonization of motives) for those who would support government welfare programs. Unfortunately, without said government programs (school lunch, for example) half the kids in my city would be hungry. Guilt or not, that is not something I am okay with.

  14. Eurhyphronics on August 19, 2012 at 6:59 am

    Alison, you write:

    “there is quite a difference between stating that a particular person you’ve never met doesn’t care for the poor and putting forth a general position statement about how [programs you don't like] continue to get support from well-meaning people.”

    Right. But the “general position” you put forward is that these people don’t want to put there money where their mouths are. And I don’t see a whole lot of difference between stating one person you never met has no concern for the poor vs. stating that whole lot of people you never met have only hypocritical concern for the poor.

    I also think you’re putting a bit too much weight on the Kristol piece. The data (especially the Google data Kristol cites) suggest that religiosity is the best predictor of high giving and liberality the second best. Religious liberals and conservatives are on a par, and secular liberals outgive secular conservatives. The reason conservatives do better overall is that being religious is a good predictor of conservatism. What we aren’t given is evidence that liberals qua liberals are stingier.

  15. Mark D. on August 19, 2012 at 7:02 am

    There is also the possibility that federal welfare programs as presently constituted are so extensive they promote the very dependency they intend to solve. There are large groups that are statistically worse off since the advent of the war on poverty. A sufficiently all encompassing replacement for work and family has an awful tendency to supplant them.

  16. Euthyphronics on August 19, 2012 at 7:06 am

    Mark D., I have no idea what parts of Rand’s philosophy Ryan rejects. But, unlike the atheism, the anti-charity bit is a direct consequence of its fundamental principles, so I’m not sure what’s left if it is rejected. And a lot of theistically-derived doctrines can be retained without supporting charity, like a divine mandate against birth control, abortion, and homosexuality. Not to mention electability, for which theism in the US is still a de facto requirement.

  17. Mark Brown on August 19, 2012 at 7:34 am

    It is impossible to know where to start shoveling in this barnyard, but I might as well put on my chest waders and get started.

    How many hundreds of millions of dollars has the church spent over the past 5 decades in an effort to alleviate poverty among its members, and yet has very little to show for it? There are more impoverished LDS now than ever. By the standard of reasoning used in this post, the cburch’s welfare program is a massive failure, and serves no purpose other than to assuage the guilt of conservative people.

    Alison, about 1,000 LDS kids starve — STARVE — to death every year. When you and the rest of the private charity only crowd figure out how to save their lives, then maybe you’ll have some moral high ground to lecture everybody. But in the meantime, you look ridiculous, up there on your little ramemptom.

  18. stephen hardy on August 19, 2012 at 7:35 am

    What do they say about lies, damned lies, etc? I find it difficult to enter a highly emotional debate like this. As a life-long liberal, and a life-long Mormon, I feel pain from many of Alison’s statements. But I also feel confusion, because I am not sure that I am qualified to engage. I am not an expert, so I can’t throw stastics around. I do find them confusing at times. For example: If 15% of Americans live in poverty, as defined in the post, then approximately 45 million people in the U.S. live in poverty. Assuming that they are all families of 3, so that there are 15 million families in poverty. Spending $61,830 per family… is that per year Alison? If so, then we would spending $2,782,350,000,000 per year(15 million times 61,830), which I don’t think we are doing.

    So, I find it hard to argue with Alison here because I don’t understand the numbers.

    Here is what I believe as a liberal:

    1. There are many poor people in the country (and in the world (per Grant Hardy))

    2. A certain number of those people are free-loaders. By this, I mean people who make no effort to provide for themselves, and see society as owing them something.

    3. I believe that most poor people aren’t free-loaders, but are poor because of illness, mental disease, bad luck, disabilities, poor education and so on.

    4. I would like to see our society (not necessarily our government, but our society) find a way to provide good opportunities for poor people. This would include a general level of health care, access to education (by this I mean either free education or highly subsidized education right through college. I think that around $50,000 dollars of debt is sort of acceptable for a college education.) It means having a society where access to good jobs isn’t barred by race, religion, sexual orientation, and so on. It means providing guns and ammunition to all worthy citizens. (OK, I was kidding about that one.)

    5. In general I am happy with our social programs here in the U.S. That is, the people whom I see and work with (I am a physician by the way, and see MANY poor people regularly) who are recipients of various types of governement assistance are, for the most part, genually poor and lack the skills or capabilities to make it on their own, for now. I see the “free-loader” problem as being similar to government waste in the military or other programs. It can’t be eliminated, (without destroying the program itself) but we should continue to do our best to fight against the problem. However, I don’t want to drastically change our social safety net because my brother-in-law is a jerk and a free-loader.

    6. Finally, I believe that we, as a society and as a government, can afford to do it. We can’t lift everyone out of poverty. But we can make poverty less devastating, and we can provide a ladder to those who want to climb out of the pit. We provide the ladder… they do the climbing.

    I also want to say this: that comparing poverty rates and comparing poverty are two very different things. Our country is much richer today than it was in 1928 and the lower 15% of the population lives better today than the lowest 15% in 1928. I see government programs as having played a major role in this. For example, Social Security has resulted in a dramatic and sustained lowering of poverty rates among our seniors. Here, here!

  19. Rameumptom on August 19, 2012 at 7:50 am

    I personally see value in Alison’s remarks. Though she could ostensibly have been a little kinder towards those she quoted, her basic premise does hold.

    I don’t have a problem with government helping out. However, I also note government inefficiencies. I knew an economist who spoke before Congress in the 1990s regarding the welfare system. He noted back then that we could write a check to every family on welfare for $20,000 and still save $400 million a year in waste.

    Having worked in the inner cities for about 2 decades, I see how government rules attached to welfare and Medicaid funds harm families in poverty. Rules that encourage a woman with children to remain unmarried only encourages a family to remain in poverty. So, I remain unconvinced concerning the efficacy of a massive government program, due to its incessant need to negatively affect human behavior. Government likes to grow, so it tends to encourage behavior that supports government-as-parent.

    I do see the importance of us having guilt/a feeling of responsibility to teach each of us to act for good. However, when government seems to be the parent, many of us give up our personal duty, consciences assuaged that the government is doing it all for us.

    Perhaps we need to get beyond the harsh terms Alison used towards a few people, and consider what she’s actually saying?

    As it is, I’m sad that some think to shut her up by asking that T&S remove her as a blogger here. Yes, this may make some feel uncomfortable, but none of us can grow without some discomfort. And for those too easily offended, perhaps we should take the time to actually ponder what is said, and not just look for reasons to be angry.

  20. Geoff B on August 19, 2012 at 8:00 am

    Alison, it makes me extremely sad to see all of the insults thrown around because people disagree with each other politically. Way, way, way over the top.

    In any case, to address the particular points made by Alison, it would be worthwhile to consider the purpose of our modern-day welfare state. I think all can agree that nobody should be starving in the streets. There are currently 115 federal programs to address poverty. Many states have a dozen or so additional programs, and some cities and counties also have their own programs. Is it possible that we could actually alleviate hunger, and help people become self-sufficient, with fewer programs? Perhaps they could be consolidated into fewer, more effective programs with a smaller bureaucracy that costs less money to taxpayers? Perhaps block grants from the federal government to states and localities would be more efficient?

    Such a common-sense approachs will never take place while people throw insults a people who try to address the issue, unfortunately.

  21. Dan on August 19, 2012 at 8:07 am

    Rameumptom,

    As it is, I’m sad that some think to shut her up by asking that T&S remove her as a blogger here.

    I don’t think people are asking T&S to remove her because of her opinion, but because she is quoting people in a private conversation without their permission. That’s, I think, verboten. And she’s quoting them to trash them publicly.

  22. Jettboy on August 19, 2012 at 8:58 am

    Dan, in that case don’t have a private conversation with Alison or be in a position were she can be privy to them. As for the government, I don’t trust it and history proves time and again that when you give power to it (no matter how charitable the reasons) that it takes power away from all of us. There can be enough private institutions and individuals set up that government shouldn’t be necessary where it impacting freedom and responsibility. Unless you believe in a form of Calvinism and human nature is basically uncaring and evil (I admit to leaning that way) and therefore force must be used by those few oh so caring. Its not about loving the poor or hating the poor, but about loving government and hating government.

  23. Jeremy on August 19, 2012 at 9:02 am

    I thought Jesus told us to help the poor. I don’t recall Jesus telling us to “solve the poverty problem.”

  24. Ardis E. Parshall on August 19, 2012 at 9:08 am

    Jettboy, “in that case don’t have a private conversation with Alison or be in a position w[h]ere she can be privy to them” is like telling the recent victims at Aurora not to go to the movies or be in any other position where a madman can reach them.

    Why do you demonize normal people going about normal business and blame them for the crimes of others?

  25. Cogs on August 19, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Fwiw, as a T&S reader but mostly- lurker and community-outsider, I found this post surprisingly vitriolic and personal It’s not an invitation to a policy debate, but an attack on motives (and apparently spillover from other forums, thus giving the nastiness an “in media res” quality. I’d expect this brand of polemics at M*, not here. Anyway, forgive my meta-analysis of the post rather than responding to its content, but that seems pointless when the emotional stakes are so high :)

  26. J on August 19, 2012 at 9:16 am

    Forced charity is not charity and the only blessing a person gains from having the money confiscated from them by the government and given to “the poor” is that they avoid tax evasion charges and jail.

    The only legitimate powers of government come from those powers delegated to it by the governed. If I don’t have the right a power to force Neighbor A to pay for Neighbor B’s prescriptions or groceries then I can’t delegate that power to the government. Even if I get a lot of neighbors together to vote on whether we should all force Neighbor A to pay for Neighbor B’s prescriptions and groceries, we still don’t have that legitimate power and can’t delegate it to the government. If we did it ourselves and went in and took Neighbor A’s money (no matter what the purpose) it is still theft and we would me nothing mor than a gang of robbers and it would be mob rule. Similarly, people voting that the government will act as their agents to steal Neighbor A’s money is just hiring a gang to do their dirty work so that they don’t have to feel like they themselves are stealing from Neighbor A. Bit in the end it is still theft and it is still mob rule. The theft is still done at the point of a gun whether the gun is put directly in Neighbor A’s face or whether there are tax forms, withholding, etc involved which, if not files and paid results in confiscation of money, property, and eventually being taken in to custody, and refusal to cooperate with those who come to take Neighbor A into custody for nonpayment would, at that point, draw their guns.

    Anything that exceeds the limits upon government as described by the Constitution, as the D&C says, “comets of evil.”. Anyone supporting government forced confiscation of the fruits of anyone else’s labor in order to assuage their own guilt and give that money to someone else therefore supports evil.

    We will be held accountable and judged for our votes and what we support the government doing, acting as our agents. If

  27. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 10:25 am

    I hope you got Daniel’s permission to use his name. That discussion seemed like a private discussion on someone’s personal page.

    Dan they were not “private discussions.” The post and comments were on Fox’s wall. At the time the post was published (and still at this writing) his wall is set to be open to the public. Before posting this, I created a dummy Facebook account with no friends. I could go to Fox’s page and read all the comments. Anyone with an internet connection can read the post and comments.

    I have edited the post to clarify that the discussion was public. Thanks for bringing that need to my attention.

  28. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Suleiman:

    Government safety nets don’t change people. But they do stop/prevent disasters.

    I — and most conservatives I know — agree that we need “safety nets.” But conservatives tend to believe have gone far beyond what most would consider a “safety net” in government control. And most feel the government has little vested interest in using the seemingly unlimited supply carefully.

    When entitlement programs (from both sides of the aisle) can buy votes and favors and power, the government can print money, and we can borrow endlessly from other countries, why not give the loudest groups what they want?

    I wonder if the emphasis should be on providing hope and tools for human beings to change their lives.

    I don’t know how you quantify giving “hope,” but I agree that the emphasis should be on helping those in need and teaching them to help themselves. The old “teach them to fish” analogy.

    Do you have ideas on how to best approach that?

  29. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 10:57 am

    Robert Rundquist:

    You show the Poverty level has gone down from 19% to 15.1%(?)

    Yes, it has gone down. With nearly $16 trillion in spending for nearly 50 years, it has gone down a few points. Currently it is rising.

    Government spends $61,830… Is the the total amount since 1964?

    Sorry to be unclear. $61,830 is the ANNUAL spending per poor family of three, which should have pushed everyone well above the $18,530 poverty line. But by far most of those poor, still are.

  30. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 11:27 am

    Aaron:

    Here’s an interesting statistic: 76 percent of food stamp recipients are either poor children, poor seniors or poor disabled. Can any fair-minded person accuse them of being lazy and unwilling to work or work harder?

    To be clear, Aaron, there is no reference in the OP to such notions.

    And that doesn’t mean I lean back and feel my job is done and I don’t need to do anything to help any individual I know who is in need.

    Good. We need more of that

    It’s also imperative that people critically evaluating what works and what doesn’t. If we don’t rationally consider the effects and side-effects of this spending, we aren’t good stewards. Spending money poorly isn’t “caring for the poor,” even if our intentions are good.

  31. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Grant Hardy:

    (because poverty around the world should be our concern as much as poverty in the US).

    Absolutely. If we have a moral obligation to “level the playing field,” there is no rational basis (that I can think of) that would limit this obligation to those within US borders. You have hit the nail on the head.

    Now, where do we go? According to the Boston Globe (2007) the average per person income worldwide is $7,000. To be “fair,” anyone making more than $7000 should be giving it away. Is there anyone here (who makes more than that) ready to make this move? Or is the pain too great at that point?

    if we really cared about the well-being of our neighbors and reducing government spending on health-care, we would adopt a Canadian-style system (or something quite like it) as soon as possible.

    My Canadian sister-in-law (who is a nurse) would disagree. :) But that is a very complex topic, to be sure.

    No amount private donations by you or me or people like us will get everyone in our country the basic healthcare that they need.

    I would be interested in your definition of “basic healthcare.” I’ve been discussing this issue for a few years and find this is one of the major sticking points.

    I feel guilty that I live in a nation in which thirty million of our citizens have little access to health care outside of emergency rooms

    I’m glad you used the word “guilt.” :)

    This is a good example of what we’re addressing. We do have a Medicaid program that is intended to give “access” to health care to the poor. We spend something over $200 billion per year on this (did not get exact stats, please correct). So why do the poor not have “access”?

    and I feel guilty that I don’t pay more in taxes

    Then why don’t you pay more? This isn’t a rhetorical question. If you feel guilty about not paying enough, they why don’t you DO what your conscience is telling you and pay what you think IS enough?

    I have heard this comment again and again and when I ask the same question, the response I get — almost universally — is something along the lines of “it won’t do any good unless EVERYONE does it.”

    I think that is a morally problematic position. If something is a moral imperative, there is no basis for withholding the “good” behavior based on the fact that others don’t act morally responsibly.

  32. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Katie:

    Not the least seems to be the utter disdain (and demonization of motives) for those who would support government welfare programs.

    Katie, *I* support government welfare programs. What I don’t support is the idea that “more is better” or that we must support programs without proof that they work in order to be “caring.” Labeling those who question the efficacy of governmental involvement as “uncaring” is simply ad hominem and doesn’t further the discussion — or help the needy.

    Unfortunately, without said government programs (school lunch, for example) half the kids in my city would be hungry. Guilt or not, that is not something I am okay with.

    But WOULD they be hungry?

    One of my clients blogs mainly about the problems in the school lunch program. (FTR, she is a staunch liberal who supports the program completely.) So while I’m not an expert in that particular program, I’ve rad quite a bit about it over the years.

    In my limited experience, I think WIC is one of the better programs, although still flawed. Last time I looked at the program, in order to participate you had to attend monthly classes on nutrition, cooking, etc. From that, vouches are given that are generally used for staples. (My biggest disagreement is that some of the “staples” aren’t foods I think give the biggest nutritional bang for the buck.) They offer things like dried beans, milk, cereal, cheese. The selections allowed are specific. (Again, I sometimes disagree with the allowed selections. For example, sometimes you are not allowed to buy the most cost effective size and almost universally you are required to purchase more expensive brand name items rather than generics.)

    Food lunch programs, on the other hand, pay for meals (many that aren’t nutritionally sound), prepared by paid cooks in a commercial-style kitchen.

    If the concern is to provide nutritious lunches efficiently, why not go with a WIC style program (such as, well, WIC!) that provides the foods for families to MAKE their own lunches to pack to school?

    If the argument is, as I’ve heard, that the parents won’t make the lunches, then what we have is a problem of serious child neglect, with parents who can’t even be bothered to feed their own kids.

  33. Samuel Smith on August 19, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    Euthyphronics:

    In my experience, the soup kitchens and homeless shelters are staffed by far more liberals than conservatives

    This is a commonly held belief oft quoted by liberals, that liberals are more caring, generous and compassionate than conservatives. One of the main points of this post was to turn that on its head.

    Generally, it’s not true.

    The book “Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compasionate Conservatism Who Gives, Who Doesn’t, and Why It Matters” written by Arthur C. Brooks (who at the time of publication was a Professor of Business and Government Policy at Syracuse University), shows that the religious (defined as those who attend church — who also happen to be mostly conservative) give four times as much money to charity each year than secular people (as defined as those who do not attend church), and are 23 times more likely to volunteer to help people than the secular.

    The statistics hold independent of the recipient of the donation or how the donation is solicited. In addition, compared to secularists, religious people are more likely to donate to secular organizations or when the recipient is not local or is unknown. Religious people are more likely to make a donation when asked (by any organization, religious or not) than secularists.

    So it may well be that most of the people staffing the soup kitchen are liberals, its likely that most of the money to pay for the soup came from conservatives.

    People of different political and religious backgrounds have different ways of responding to their feelings of compassion for the poor. The discussion should be on the relative merits, degree, and efficacy of the different approaches. What we wanted to point out is that just because some program to help the poor alleviates the pangs of guilt, does not necessarily mean the poor were actually helped cost effectively. Just because some is good does not mean more is better. Unless you are talking about guilt assuagement.

    One motivation for of this article was to stop the name calling by liberals of conservatives as not caring for the poor. Both care. The question is what is the best way to address the problem. As Brook’s book shows, there is no moral high ground that a liberal can rationally stand on to say that “in general” conservatives do not care or do not do anything for the poor.

    If anything the only valid generalization is that secularists don’t care, so religious liberals should be focusing their displeasure on the secularists both liberal and conservative, not their fellow “religious” conservatives.

  34. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    Euthyphronics, while this post isn’t directly about Ryan or Rand (or any conflation of the two), Ryan has made his position clear. So if you “have no idea what parts of Rand’s philosophy Ryan rejects” and want to know “what’s left if it is rejected” you can find out.

    Here’s one such source: What Paul Ryan Really Believes About Ayn Rand

  35. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    Mark Brown:

    Alison, about 1,000 LDS kids starve — STARVE — to death every year. When you and the rest of the private charity only crowd figure out how to save their lives, then maybe you’ll have some moral high ground to lecture everybody.

    Mark, the response is predictable (read that: I’ve heard it before), but not very productive.

    First, we actually think LDS charities provide a much better solution to many problems than government programs do. A future post will address that.

    Second, we are not and did not say we are proponents of “private charity only.” Put the straw man down and back away.

    Third, the question isn’t whether or not I can prevent those thousand LDS (although I’m not sure why the religious affiliation is relevant) kids’ deaths, but whether current efforts to prevent such starvation are efficacious.

    Your position seems to be that if I don’t have all the answers, I can’t discuss the issue. Since you feel qualified to discuss the issue and defend a supposed moral high ground, I assume you have the answers. Share!

  36. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    stephen hardy, the source for the numbers is linked above. If I have misquoted, feel free to correct.

    A certain number of those people are free-loaders. I believe that most poor people aren’t free-loaders, but are poor because of illness, mental disease, bad luck, disabilities, poor education and so on.

    While I think this is an important topic, please note that the OP did not label anyone who uses government programs, not did it address fraud and misuse.

    I would like to see our society find a way to provide good opportunities for poor people…This would include…education (by this I mean either free education or highly subsidized education right through college.

    I completely disagree with this position. Due to our own experiences in college, Sam and I decided NOT to subsidize our OWN children’s college educations much BECAUSE we believe that having ADULTS (whether our children or not) learn to work for what they get is beneficial.

    To me, perpetuating the idea that adults aren’t capable of becoming educated without a handout isn’t “care,” it’s crippling.

    (We have one daughter in graduate school and two undergrads right now. Three younger at home.)

    Finally, I believe that we, as a society and as a government, can afford to do it. We can’t lift everyone out of poverty. But we can make poverty less devastating, and we can provide a ladder to those who want to climb out of the pit. We provide the ladder… they do the climbing.

    I agree with this statement. So, are the programs we know have doing that? Are they making it “less devastating”? What is the “ladder” mechanism as you see it? Are people climbing out on it? What can be better?

  37. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    Rameumptom, thanks for your thoughts.

    I personally see value in Alison’s remarks. Though she could ostensibly have been a little kinder towards those she quoted, her basic premise does hold.

    Rameumptom, to clarify, I’d like to point out that we didn’t attack anyone. I simply quoted, in context, the exact words of a PUBLIC conversation showing how taking a conservative position almost always results in having one’s motives impugned, generally without any substantiation. (Names have now been removed.)

    If you question entitlements, you’re hateful. End of discussion.

    And it’s odd to me that it’s seen as “unkind” to point out the rhetoric, but not to use the rhetoric in the first place.

    Rules that encourage a woman with children to remain unmarried only encourages a family to remain in poverty.

    I have a brother (not the one on Facebook, in case anyone knows Dave!), who is now 50. He has been supported by the government his entire adult life. He is able-bodied and actually quite bright. But he just really doesn’t like to work. (“How did you lose your job?” “Well, I just didn’t really feel like getting up on Tuesday, so I just didn’t go.”) He doesn’t eat very well (he looks about 65), but he always has enough for booze and cigarettes.

    He has multiple children — some from multiple dissolved marriages, some from other relationships — none of whom he supports.

    He divorced his first (or second?) wife because, in his own words, “If we are divorced we get two welfare checks instead of one.”

    For the record, my brother also scammed the church welfare system for years, moving from ward to ward. But he was blacklisted eventually. Meaning, according to him, he’s on some “don’t serve” list and hasn’t been able to get church help for a couple of decades. I find that fact interesting.

    I do see the importance of us having guilt/a feeling of responsibility to teach each of us to act for good. However, when government seems to be the parent, many of us give up our personal duty, consciences assuaged that the government is doing it all for us.

    I think it’s natural to do so, and thus the problem. It’s disheartening, depressing, discouraging to see the difficulty in the world when we’re sitting at our computer monitors with leisure time to comment on blogs. What are we doing here, chatting, when we could be knitting hats or crocheting leper bandages or working on the welfare farm?

    The problem isn’t remotely solved. We shouldn’t be feeling good about it.

    Thanks for your supportive comments.

  38. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    Geoff B:

    I think all can agree that nobody should be starving in the streets. There are currently 115 federal programs to address poverty.

    The CATO report lists 126 federal anti-poverty programs. Of course there are also numerous state and local programs, as you said.

    it possible that we could actually alleviate hunger, and help people become self-sufficient, with fewer programs? Perhaps they could be consolidated into fewer, more effective programs with a smaller bureaucracy that costs less money to taxpayers? Perhaps block grants from the federal government to states and localities would be more efficient?

    All worth considering.

    Jettboy:

    Its not about loving the poor or hating the poor, but about loving government and hating government.

    In our case, it’s about using only appropriate government measures in ways that actually help.

  39. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    Jeremy:

    I thought Jesus told us to help the poor. I don’t recall Jesus telling us to “solve the poverty problem.”

    And the question is, are the programs being promoted actually helping?

    In my brother’s case, I’d say absolutely not. He is willing to work if not doing so means getting no food, cigarettes, etc. But if he doesn’t HAVE to work, he won’t. And he doesn’t and hasn’t most of his adult life. The “help” that tends to make people feel like they are contributing is actually enabling him to have an entire life of “doing nothing” (his own words).

    Ardis E. Parshall:

    Why do you demonize normal people going about normal business and blame them for the crimes of others?

    Responding to public comments in a public venue isn’t a “crime.”

  40. Jonathan Green on August 19, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Alison, one of the things that make this such a poor post is that you are relying on propaganda instead of unbiased information, and you’re unable to tell the difference. You cite a couple of statistics from the Cato report you link to that just don’t hold up to scrutiny. The figure of $61,000 per poor family of three is derived by taking the entire budgets of all 126 programs, which is rounded to an even trillion, and then dividing by the number of people living in poverty, then multiplying by three. But that uses the wrong denominator. Many of those programs the report lists, such as Pell grants, benefit far more people than only those below the poverty line. Also, it’s pretty hinky to come up with a per-family statistic by simply multiplying the individual number by three. That’s not an average three-person family – that’s an imaginary individual multiplied by three, which is not at all the same thing. So your outrage is being driven by threadbare statistics. Give it a little scrutiny, and you might not be so outraged by it.

    Also, if you think about it, there’s not actually a contradiction between rising welfare spending and rising poverty rates. In an economic downturn, more people need government aid. Welfare spending is up under the Obama administration because the economy has been in the tank.

    What also makes this post so weak is that it’s not a post about government welfare spending, about which reasonable people can debate the proper level. Instead, it’s a post that uses a derisive acronym to mock how liberals feel about welfare spending. I don’t see why you’re primarily concerned about feelings other people may or may not have, and I think it was in incredibly poor taste to focus your mockery by singling out people by name, particularly when those people are some of the best bloggers T&S ever had. We’d be lucky to have people of that caliber again.

  41. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    And I don’t see a whole lot of difference between stating one person you never met has no concern for the poor vs. stating that whole lot of people you never met have only hypocritical concern for the poor.

    To clarify, we don’t think it’s “hypocritical concern for the poor.” We believe it is sincere! And we believe that is part of what makes it so problematic. We believe many want to help the poor, see no way to do it because the problem is enormous (as per the second quote), feel guilty about it and want to feel better.

    Supporting programs helps them feel better, which is only good if they really help the poor.

    I also think you’re putting a bit too much weight on the Kristol piece.

    We’re actually not putting any weight on the Kristof piece. I didn’t see it until yesterday and Sam didn’t see it until this morning. :) But I thought it was good.

  42. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    Cogs:

    I found this post surprisingly vitriolic and personal It’s not an invitation to a policy debate, but an attack on motives

    It absolutely IS an attack on motives! It is the motives that are the problem. if we are quantifying the success of a program by how it makes us *feel* — as opposed to how it really helps — that’s a motive to be reckoned with. If we are supporting a program because it’s “beauty” is that I can supposedly help millions without being taken out of my routine, we need to be willing to analyze whether that’s a rational way to determine spending.

    Bad policy has serious consequences. We have to be willing to analyze them rationally, rather than through our

  43. Kaimi Wenger on August 19, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    Speaking for myself as an individual:

    1. I think that the “conservatives are heartless monsters who don’t care about the poor” argument is often quite overstated. A reasonable case can be made, for instance, that a reduction in some government programs combined with incentive for charitable giving would be as efficacious as existing programs. (I probably wouldn’t agree with that substantive claim, but it can certainly be made in a reasonable way.)

    2. I don’t think that this post made that argument very well (sorry, Alison), because instead of saying “conservatives are okay too, please don’t say that I suck because I’m conservative” (which would be a reasonable argument to make), it swung all the way to the other side: Liberals suck and don’t really care about the poor. I think that distracts from the post.

  44. Michele on August 19, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    Charity needs to be voluntary, period. Government is force. Government that forcibly takes from one to give to another is socialism. Socialism eventually runs out of other people’s money… case in point the government currently borrows 40 cents out of every dollar it spends. By 2020 every single dollar that the government takes in, its GDP will only cover Medicare, Social Security and interest on the national debt. There won’t be any money left to pay for education, the military, roads, welfare, zero. American’s are charitable without force, think back to the outpouring of help and donations after 9/11, after the 2004 tzunami in Indonesia, the hurricane in Louisianna. We need to encourage or reward voluntary donations and time to help others and eliminate the punitive confiscation of wealth found in our current administration. People who are forced to donate and sacrifice don’t develope a charitable attitude but end up full of resentment and those who receive the redistribution develope an entitlement attitude. Socialism does not respect or understand human nature and thus always ends us creating more problems then it intended to solve and fails, making everybody poor and miserable.

  45. Samuel Smith on August 19, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    Brown:

    How many hundreds of millions of dollars has the church spent over the past 5 decades in an effort to alleviate poverty among its members, and yet has very little to show for it?

    What is often overlooked or misunderstood in discussions about the problem of poverty is the crucial distinction between “ACUTE” poverty and “CHRONIC” poverty.

    Acute poverty is when someone is temporarily poor due to some event such as, an illness, famine, disease, job loss, war, persecution, dislocation, death of supporter, immigration etc. The person or family does not have the ability, in an of themselves, to “immediately” cure the poverty. But with some help to sustain their life in the short run, they are able to eventually rise back to a level of self sufficiency. Eventually might take years.

    There will always be a baseline level of acute poverty because bad things will happen. The important thing is that this year’s poor are not last year’s poor. New poor were created but old poor rose out of poverty. A safety net for the acute poor is a very good thing. It works, its efficacy can be measured by how many acute poor are helped out of poverty and how long it takes to get them out.

    Whereas chronic poverty is not temporary, it is intergenerational. A person/family stays poor and their children and children’s children stay poor as well. This year’s poor are last years poor. While there are a myriad factors that contribute to chronic poverty, one of the insidious factors is dependency on government aid. As Rameumptom points out above. Government aid can provide perverse incentives for the poor to stay relatively poor hence causing a rise in chronic poverty.

    So we need to carefully fine tune any aid program to make sure it is not counter productively increasing chronic poverty while not really doing any more to alleviate acute poverty.

    Just because some is good does not mean more is better.

    In the case of the Church programs. To say that they haven’t done any good, because the poverty rates haven’t changed is not a valid argument. Because it fails to make the distinction between acute and chronic poverty. A significant percentage of new converts to the church come from the poor. If the next generation of these converts are less poor then the Church’s programs are working really well. New poor come in but they leave less poor. I would call that a fantastic success.

    If however, like many government programs, the Church’s welfare system caused dependency and the poor converts never rose out of poverty then it would be a failure. The Perpetual Education Fund is an example of the type of program that fixes acute poverty without causing chronic poverty.

    Its interesting that a similar program, “education vouchers” that in Washington DC was helping the poor rise out of poverty by getting a better education than their dysfunctional publicly funded school system could give them was cancelled by the Obama administration. Unfortunately, the best explanation I can give for this counter rational behavior is that “caring” about the poor wasn’t really the point.

  46. Rachel Whipple on August 19, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    Alison, is it possible that the efficiencies of scale can win over the inefficiencies of governmental bureaucracy to have a net good effect? I would certainly feel less King Benjamin inspired guilt by giving money to the beggar on the street who asks for it personally, but that is not the most effective or efficient way of alleviating the crushing problem of homelessness. Private charities do great work, but many of them are also supported by government aid. The problems of poverty and suffering are so great that more than one approach is needed to address them. My guilt is not assuaged by being a taxpayer and knowing that some part of my money is going to those concerns. I am glad those programs exist, and I am motivated to help in my community because I know they are not, and cannot, ever be enough.

  47. Stephen R Marsh on August 19, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    “Alison, about 1,000 LDS kids starve — STARVE — to death every year. When you and the rest of the private charity only crowd figure out how to save their lives, then maybe you’ll have some moral high ground to lecture everybody.”

    There is a claim that every three years one percent of the active members of the church starve to death. The numbers behind the claim are somewhat problematic.

    After all, that translates to about one child per ward every three years. If you are thirty you should know ten children who have starved to death.

  48. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    Kaimi:

    …instead of saying “conservatives are okay too, please don’t say that I suck because I’m conservative”, it swung all the way to the other side: Liberals suck and don’t really care about the poor.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate you bringing this up.

    We tried to carefully point out, that we actually believe that almost *everyone* cares for the less fortunate, that claims to the contrary simply aren’t true. Here are some examples:

    Amongst people we know, one nearly universal characteristic is the feeling of both compassion and obligation — or guilt — for those “less fortunate.”

    While there are some few who are so hardened and self-interested that they have no concern for the plight of others, typically people of all types and degrees of political and religious disposition experience this “guilt.” Indeed it may be one of the truly defining characteristics of humanity to have a sense of obligation to help those in need.

    In fact, the entire post is based on the idea that we believe liberals DO care for the poor. If they didn’t, there would be no guilt to assuage. :)

  49. Wilfried on August 19, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    Samuel (45), you mention: “A significant percentage of new converts to the church come from the poor.” Do you have a source for that?

  50. Stan on August 19, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    This is a VERY complex topic and is worthy of debate. One Allison’s closing arguments is:

    “We believe that the onus should be on those proposing more of the same, to show that more, or even the status quo, is really an appropriate and efficient use of resources.”

    This is a valid argument. As one who has struggled with disability and illness for nearly twenty years I have found the government solutions, especially Social Security disability process to be a farce and a HUGE waste of tax payer dollars.

    Starting with the application process, which is ridiculous. The average legitimately disabled person applying for Social Security Disability will be denied at least four times and will likely be REQUIRED to hire an attorney specializing in Social Security. The disabled person is required to pay thousands of dollars to these attorneys. If a disabled person has someone who can fight for them and make it to the hearing process, then they are able to see more wasted tax dollars. The hearing process contains a courtroom filled with expert witnesses from both sides arguing for and against the applicant. An administrative law judge (ALJ) presides over the hearing with all the support staff. The amount of paperwork and medical exams are overwhelming. The typical Social Security hired physician seems to lack even the most basic diagnostic abilities. It seems their opinion regardless of symptoms is, if an applicant has a beating heart, then they are fit enough to work. Real medical doctors, as in my case neurologists and internal medicine physicians’ opinions seemed to matter little. I cannot imagine the tens of thousands of dollars that must have been wasted in determining I was in reality, physically and permanently disabled.

    Now to make it worse. I did not want to be on Social Security, so we made a deal with the ALJ for me to re-train in a different field and for Social Security to pay me disability income during a “closed period of disability.” This was so I could hold my head high knowing I was not sponging off the system, but trying with all my might and despite my disability to WORK! Then after the agreement was made a clerical error was made by Social Security that resulted in me NOT getting paid any disability income during retraining.

    As the years went by my health continued to decline, my wife had to return to BYU to complete her Masters in Social Work degree. She now needed provide for us, since I was no longer able to work. What she learned while in the social work program was how there are many like me who have to fight tooth and nail to get any kind of Social Security benefits. Further, she learned there are countless others who know how to scam the system and receive undeserving benefits. This is typical government, which punishes those in need, while rewarding those who don’t. I am not saying there are many who need Social Security and other programs to survive, I am just sharing what we learned and experienced first hand.

    I have highlighted only one program in one federal agency where the system is seriously flawed. My wife while in her social work internships had to deal with Medicare and Medicaid nightmares. She learned both will waste hundreds of dollars to save pennies. That is out government at work. I can hardly wait until Obamacare destroys our already very broken healthcare system.

    “Government is NOT the solution, but the problem,” as a wise former US president once said.

  51. Samuel Smith on August 19, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    Jonathan Green:

    So your outrage is being driven by threadbare statistics. Give it a little scrutiny, and you might not be so outraged by it.

    Your comment seems to miss the central point of our article and the Cato report. From the Cato report itself is a very well qualified statement that is the central point.

    Of course no individual is eligible for every program, and many poor people receive nowhere near this amount of funding. And many supposedly anti-poverty programs are poorly targeted, with benefits spilling over to people well above the poverty line. But that is precisely the point—we are spending more than enough money to fight poverty but not spending it in ways that actually reduce poverty.

    The CATO article clearly states that the statistic represents a virtual family. Your response is a quibble that neither repudiates nor diminishes the central point, that is, just spending money on government programs to help the needy is not the same as actually helping the needy.

    Our problem is that it often assuages the guilt of those who would otherwise do try to help, because they do care.

    If you look closely at the dynamics of using government aid, you see that there is a tipping point where in unfettered aid starts to provide perverse incentives that are counter productive. As an engineering academic researcher, one of my areas of specialty was in optimal control systems. Optimality is usually a precise balanced trade-off. Too much can be just as bad as too little.

    I don’t see anywhere near the sort of methodical, reasonable design and deliberation that a $1 trillion annual expenditure should require.

    So instead of pretending that we are helping millions out of poverty just because we are spending trillions, we should be actually examining the good and the bad results of all these programs and refining and fine-tuning them. Make them prove they are effective. But anyone who asks for proof who want to improve the efficacy and cost effectiveness is shouted down as uncaring.

  52. Cynthia L. on August 19, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    “After all, that translates to about one child per ward every three years. If you are thirty you should know ten children who have starved to death.”

    Stephen, this only makes sense if you assume that T&S readers and children who starve to death are both evenly distributed throughout the wards of the church. Worst. assumption. ever.

  53. Cynthia L. on August 19, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    Stan, the irony is that all those hurdles and barriers are there precisely because of conservatives’ obsession with rooting out “fraud and waste” in those programs. The idea that fraud and waste can be removed from government programs for free (without any overhead associated with identifying and removing it), like some kind of immaculate conception in reverse, is an aspect of conservative campaign-season rhetoric that is especially eyeroll-inducing to me. In fact, often, removing the fraud and waste wastes more money than allowing some small background amount of it to go on, as it inevitably will. Anyone who has spent any time working in government, or dealing with it, learns this quickly, as you have, Stan.

  54. OAK on August 19, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    Poverty will always exist, it always has. Some of it generational, a lifestyle by acceptance of welfare, handouts, and other government and non-government assistance. Occasionally one of the poverty raised kids breaks out. Gets those educational grants without strings attached, or manages to enter the military, or finds a good job and gets the idea of work = self reliance and breaks the cycle.

    Others continue to breed in poverty for many reasons. Read all the literature and studies available. Everyone has an opinion.

    Breaking the poverty cycle and getting the most bang for the government and non-government buck involves dedicated education in small classes, feeding the hungry who come to school, teaching them the habits of physical cleanliness,proper clothing, and finding mentors (want to assuage your guilt? Get off the damn couch and help out!) and find out who would succeed with higher education and who needs to learn a trade or other viable job skill.

    Stop the high incarceration rate for possession of pot and other minor offenses, it is cheaper to have treatment and community work programs again coupled with education than prison.

    Do you know what they do in prison? First they sober the inmates up, then they require educational success and then work programs. Wouldn’t it be better to do this before children grow up in this poverty cycle?

    By the way. If you cut head start and the planned parenthood programs which are more than contraception, you enable the poverty cycle to continue. Wonderful LDS and other religious legislators do this time and time again. What do they do about the children that result? Put them in privately owned corporate prisons when they get older. And the cycle continues.

  55. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Wilfried:

    Samuel (45), you mention: “A significant percentage of new converts to the church come from the poor.” Do you have a source for that?

    Wilfried, the Pew Research Center shows that 40% of converts to the LDS church are in the lowest income bracket they record. (That is compared to 21% for nonconverts.) There are other references I’ve heard in the past couple of years, but that one was easy to find.

  56. Katie on August 19, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    Re: school lunch. No. Not every child would be hungry in most cases. In this case, at one of the “lowest performing” and “high poverty” rate schools, yes. 10% of kids labelled food insecure. Parents make too much for WIC but in a place where cost of living is 175% above average, sometimes school lunch is it. Lucky to be in school district that includes farm fresh produce and healthy choices. I agree–don’t throw money at programs that don’t work. More is not better, necessarily. Perhaps we should focus on something different–Americans want cheap goods. Cheap gas. Cheap clothing. Cheap food. And we pay full time workers–CNA, retail, housecleaning, etc cheap wages. Wages that working full time in many areas of the country does not equal a living wage.

  57. Cynthia L. on August 19, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    This whole post seems to me a big waste of everyone’s time, because as evidence for this GAGA purported phenomenon, it only gives one statement made by one liberal on a silly Facebook comment thread of all places.

    Many liberals here have said that efficacy matters to them, and assuaging guilt is not the primary attraction. In fact, the post itself acknowledges that efficacy is the first point often made by liberals when their government approaches are questioned (in the author’s own experience, still anecdotal, it should be acknowledged)— they say that [they believe] that only government approaches can have the scale the task demands. In other words, it’s an argument about efficacy of the solution. That would seem to end your whole argument that it’s about guilt, not efficacy.

    The only counter-argument you present to this large history of anecdotal evidence that it is about efficacy is, again, one quote by one guy, who happens to mention guilt and low personal price. One quote by one random guy is, shall we say, not very convincing.

    Everybody should go home and let Alison come up with some actual evidence of anything, and then get back to us when or if she does.

  58. Jonathan Green on August 19, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    Uh, wait, what? So the Cato report decides to call 126 programs with a budget of ONE TRILLION DOLLARS anti-poverty programs, then observes that they also benefit people who aren’t poor, and so decides they must be ineffective anti-poverty programs because of that? Samuel, that makes no sense. You have to read these things much more carefully before citing them as proof of anything at all. If you don’t recognize that you’re trying to base an argument on faulty, manufactured numbers, then this is not a useful discussion.

  59. Stan on August 19, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    Cynthia L.

    The point I was trying to make is the system is broken, and more government will equal more broken programs. Pointing fingers at who is to blame for check and balances is not the issue. Bloated government is the issue and more government equals more problems, and then more checks and balances. When does the cycle end? When China owns us? When the U.S. is bankrupt?

    We need to help our neighbors, I don’t think anyone is questioning that. The government system is broken and the status quo is not working. I don’t know the answer, except the government has a proven track record of failure.

    =================

    For those who have come down hard on the Church Welfare System. The Church cannot put food into every belly, pay every utility or medical bill, but I promise you there are many readers (myself included) who are grateful for this inspired program. Governments could learn a lot from the Church Welfare System and how to administer government programs without the bloat and waste. I am grateful when our bishop offered to help us that I did not have to go through four rejections, hire an attorney, and have a hearing before an ALJ, and then have a clerical error deny me help in the end like I experienced with Social Security. The Church’s system may not be perfect, because whenever people are involved there will be problems, but it is a wonderful inspired program blessing the lives of many people.

  60. BHodges on August 19, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    Jettboy, #22:

    Its not about loving the poor or hating the poor, but about loving government and hating government.

    Governments are people, my friend!

  61. Geoff B on August 19, 2012 at 8:20 pm

    Cynthia L, I have seen the claim that efficacy matters to “traditional liberals,” but I see no actual evidence in terms of big picture rhetoric or in terms of proposals to cut government spending in the name of efficiency. Instead, we hear claims that anybody trying to create efficient government is an Ayn Rand disciple who favors social darwinism. It truly would be refreshing to see some actual proposals regarding efficiency that show a concern about the growth of government spending and the redundancy of government programs. Of the 126 federal programs and dozens of state and local programs, some of them must overlap, right? Can you point me to any proposals out there from traditional liberals to deal with this problem? Would you agree that over-the-top rhetoric (mentioned by Kaimi above in comment #43) doesn’t do anything to solve the problem?

  62. Quickmere Graham on August 19, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    I pay tithing and fast offerings for the purpose of guilt assuaging, and also so I can be allowed into the Temple. I use my free agency, no-coercively, to choose to pay these things so as to access the highest blessings.

  63. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    OAK, thanks for your response.

    Do you know what they do in prison? First they sober the inmates up, then they require educational success and then work programs. Wouldn’t it be better to do this before children grow up in this poverty cycle?

    That’s an interesting idea, one I tend to agree with. How would you propose going about it?

    My dad turned 83 last week (he lives with us), so I took him on a long drive around Utah Lake on his birthday (his favorite thing on earth is going for a ride).

    He talked about all the jobs he’s had during his life. His first was at age 12, stocking shelves at a corner drug store (for pennies a day). Next he bagged groceries. Then, he was a “soda jerk” at the Salt Lake Snelgroves and helped support his family.

    Today, 12-year-olds cannot legally hold jobs. It’s “mean” to expect kids to work. There has even been legislation this year to try to keep kids from working on their own family farms. Minimum wage laws limit the number of non-skilled and very low-skilled jobs available to those just starting out.

    I asked my dad if he that it was wrong for him to have to work at age 12 for almost nothing. He looked at me like I was nuts. (Not the first time he’s done that. :) ) He said, “Of course not! That’s how I learned to work hard, that’s how I gained skills to get a BETTER job, that’s how I built my reputation as a good worker!”

    He went on a three year mission (to Holland), put himself through BS, MS, and PhD and became a math professor with that work ethic.

    So somewhere we went from “five year olds shouldn’t be in sweat shops 15 hours a day being beaten with a stick when they don’t meet quota” (some is good) to “13-year-olds shouldn’t work at all, even milking the family cow or gathering eggs” (more is better).

    If you cut head start

    Head Start is a good program to discuss. The federal government did an impact study on Head Start two years ago. It showed that poor kids IN Head Start did better, but that the benefit was “largely absent” by…get ready…first grade.

    Since that report came out, Head Start funding has, I understand, increased by more than a billion dollars. (Because, of course, if it’s failing it’s because not enough money is being spent.)

    the planned parenthood programs which are more than contraception

    PP says 3% of their services are abortion. That definition isn’t clear, but looks to mean something along the lines of “when we provide 100 services [passing out condoms, referring mammograms, etc.] only three are abortions. iUsing information from the Guttmacher institute, it seems nearly 40% of their REVENUE is actually from abortions.

    So, yea, I’m not keen on PP either.

    What do they do about the children that result?

    Adopt them? That’s what my parents did.

  64. Quickmere Graham on August 19, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    Cynthia L, I have seen the claim that efficacy matters to “traditional liberals,” but I see no actual evidence in terms of big picture rhetoric or in terms of proposals to cut government spending in the name of efficiency.

    That’s most likely because you direct your attention to specious places like cable news, and of course, the crap which Cato chooses to waste their time responding to. You hear liberal voices filtered through your preferred sources, and when liberals try to correct you, you simply say “I don’t hear liberals talking like that”, without apparently realizing that you are, at that moment, hearing liberals talk like that.

  65. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    Cynthia L:

    This whole post seems to me a big waste of everyone’s time…

    I’m always amused when people spend time commenting on posts that are a waste of time. But thanks for your input!

  66. Geoff B on August 19, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    Quickmere, give me some links. I am truly interested. I am trying to find areas of agreement, not trying to make a rhetorical point. Where are the liberal proposals for efficiency?

  67. Quickmere Graham on August 19, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    You’re always amused by this? Actually you seem annoyed, and slightly passive-aggressive (you know, the whole “thanks for your input!” thing).

  68. Quickmere Graham on August 19, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    Geoff: I’ll trade you links. You provide some where liberals are saying “let’s create inefficient welfare programs, and also let’s do it to assuage our guilt.” I will provide you with three links regarding efficiency for every one link you provide. That’s a nice exchange rate.

  69. Samuel Smith on August 19, 2012 at 8:47 pm

    Jonathan Green:

    So the Cato report decides to call 126 programs with a budget of ONE TRILLION DOLLARS anti-poverty programs, then observes that they also benefit people who aren’t poor, and so decides they must be ineffective anti-poverty programs because of that?

    A well qualified statement, means that you include any exceptions, variations, etc., to the central point., precisely so that detractors don’t immediately accuse you of being disingenuous. But what you have done is to take one of those exceptions and erroneously tried to use it to refute the central point.

    To quote the Cato study, their criteria for a welfare program is one that claims to be a welfare program whose primary purpose is to help the poor. In other words it is sold to the electorate as a welfare program. If indeed some of the funds are not spent on welfare, this just supports our contention all the more. Its value is derived from its guilt assuagement not its actual anti-poverty efficacy.

    To quote the article

    Most welfare programs are means-tested programs that provide aid directly to low-income persons in the form of cash, food, housing, medical care, and so forth, with eligibility based on the recipients’ income. The remaining programs are either community-targeted programs, which provide aid to communities that are economically distressed or have large numbers of poor people, or categorical programs, which base eligibility for benefits on belonging to a needy or disadvantaged group, such as migrant workers or the homeless. Some welfare programs are well known; some are barely heard of even in Washington.

  70. Bryan in VA on August 19, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    One problem we US conservatives have with Federal welfare programs is that the US Constitution grants no authority to the US Government to address poverty issues. All proverty programs ought to be run by the various states where the Constitutional authority resides. From this conservative’s point of view Federal social programs (Social Security, Medicare, SNAP, etc.) ought to be run by the states without the Federal government providing cash assistance (since it doesn’t have the Constitutional power to do so.)

  71. Stephen R. Marsh on August 19, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    Cynthia L. — well, if the poverty line for those joining the Church is greater than the general population, and given that I have lived in some pretty poor wards and branches, after all, I grew up in trailer parks and am 56, you would expect that I should know of parents whose children starved to death.

    Especially given that having buried three children myself, my wife and I are much more likely than normal people to have people raise the deaths of children (theirs and others) with us.

    Would it be unreasonable for me to expect to have at least met one person who has met a person who had a child starve to death in the Church?

    I think the numbers used for the “1,000 children a year” number are based on supposition and assumption more than hard data.

    Like many other number (for example, the 1 in 9 women will get breast cancer number or the 100% of all men will get prostate cancer number).

  72. Michael Towns on August 19, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    I am relishing the liberal response to this post. As usual, the histrionics and hyperventilating does not disappoint.

  73. Alison Moore Smith on August 19, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    Thanks so much to everyone who took the time to read and post thoughtful comments from all perspectives. Your input and insights are appreciated. :)

    Sam and I are off for an evening of family time, so we’re closing comments down. We hope to see you next Sunday when we post again.

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Times and Seasons is a place to gather and discuss ideas of interest to faithful Latter-day Saints.