Government vs. Charity: Who Deserves Help, and How Do We Deliver That Help?

P&R Miscellany and I have a fundamental disagreement about what to do about the poor. We both agree that citizens can and should work together to alleviate the suffering caused by poverty. We both agree that poverty-alleviation efforts should enhance the autonomy and liberty of the fellow citizens whom we help, not make them weaker and dependent.

However, P&R believes that government anti-poverty efforts strip the dignity of the poor and turn them into Baltimore diaper looters, while private charity ennobles receivers and givers. I believe that government and charity, both human institutions, are equally subject to corruption and error and equally capable of rendering aid and comfort.

P&R cites a Thomas Sowell (gaack! gaaccckkkk!) passage as the core of his opposition to government welfare efforts:

Non-judgmental subsidies of counterproductive lifestyles are treating people as if they were livestock, to be fed and tended by others in a welfare state — and yet expecting them to develop as human beings have developed when facing the challenges of life themselves [Thomas Sowell, “The Inconvenient Truth About Ghetto Communities’ Social Breakdown,” National Review, 2015.05.05].

Non-judgmental subsidies of counter-productive lifestyles… hmm… I believe we are getting to the core of the issue. P&R don’t just disagree on how to help. We may disagree on who deserves help.

The government issues various benefits—Medicaid, food stamps, WIC—based on pretty simple criteria: income, number of children, medical condition. True, we through the government doesn’t ask welfare applicants, “Well, how did you get into this condition? Did you behave counterproductively to end up poor or pregnant or anemic?” We just check the eligibility criteria and say, “You qualify. Here, feed your kids. Get that check-up.” We set some limits, require some work, and we toy with the offensive idea of forcing applicants to pee in a cup, but for the most part, we don’t pry into recipients’ lifestyles. Sowell and P&R are right: we don’t judge much at the welfare office.

But do private charities judge? When your local church hosts a community dinner, do drug-test guests at the door and turn away those who fail? When women come to the church clothing room, do you pull the local harlot aside and say, “You got pregnant outside of a monogamous relationship, so no onesies for your spawn of Satan”? How much judging happens in private charities to distinguish it from public welfare programs? Would such judging make private charity or public welfare better programs? And are private charities any better equipped to judge their fellow citizens than a government operating under a Constitution guaranteeing majority rule and protection of minority rights?

When you find a hungry man, do you read him the riot act, or the Gospels, or do you hand him an apple?

The poor will always be with us (said some pessimistic carpenter), so we will always need a clear idea of the principles that motivate us to help and the proper social tools we can us to render that help. If we can work together to help our neighbors through our churches and the United Way, why can we not also work together through the social contract, through our city councils, state legislatures, and Congress to exercise our humanitarian obligations?

66 Responses to Government vs. Charity: Who Deserves Help, and How Do We Deliver That Help?

  1. If government can throw millions of dollars at rich farmers like the Noem/Arnold family it can certainly afford to make food available to the poor to stave off malnutrition.

    If government can subsidize flood insurance to protect the net worth of people who build expensive homes on sandbars by oceans or rivers it can afford to help Americans keep a more meager roof over their heads when they have fallen on hard times.

    Regardless of whether it is government or some private entity making money or goods available to the poor, there will always be people who don’t need the help in the line to receive it. Government and private entities both should offer some tough love rather than unconditional love to those who would abuse a program.

    One example. My friend’s doctor just suggested to him that he should be on disability at age 46 because he has arthritis in his hips. He works full time, has a side business, and does not consider himself disabled. As an industrious and active person he was taken aback by the suggestion. But how many people would jump at the doctor’s offer to quit their job and kick back on a fixed income? Too many, I suspect.

  2. Tough love—there’s the judgment we have an urge to render. Who is best equipped to deliver such tough love?

    R, we share disgust at the welfare government hands out to the rich. Do charities ever make that error? Are the rich ever able to co-opt private charities to enrich themselves the way they can co-opt Congress and regulatory commissions?

    But consider: if we agree that Noem and Rounds should not receive those subsidies but should instead have to beg their local charities for help, are we also compelled by principle to agree that the poor should not get government subsidies, either?

  3. I don’t know what you’re getting at, Cory. I think we can agree that government shouldn’t dole out subsidies to the rich, who can and should pay their own way. We also agree that government should help those who can’t help themselves with the basics – food, shelter, healthcare.

    I do believe that at all social strata there are too many people asking what government can do for them, rather than asking President Kennedy’s suggested question. This gives rise to the need for a stern gatekeeper for government poor relief programs (as well as a need to eliminate welfare programs for the rich). It’s not about someone’s lifestyle, as PR suggests. It’s about the ability to help one’s self. President Clinton acknowledged this, and future Democratic candidates should also.

    Building on my example above. My friend’s grandfather, a millionaire farmer who lived through the depression and always lived very frugally once went to the county building to get license tags for his pickup. He found himself mistakenly in a line to receive a block of government cheese. He didn’t take the cheese. Now in his community he was embarrassed to be seen in the cheese line, and he left the line when he figured it out. But had he remained it would have been perfectly appropriate for the people doling out the cheese blocks to say, “you don’t need one.”

  4. mike from iowa

    I hadn’t noticed korporate welfare being cut by wingnuts to balance the budget,just help for the truly needy.I’m guessing wingnuts renamed korporate welfare – korporate entitlements so they can hand them out w/o affecting their lack of conscience. What a bunch of fauxknee kristians.

  5. Both my friend and his grandfather are Democrats. The grandfather, who I very much enjoyed visiting with and talking politics, never complained about paying taxes. He was happy to support the government that made it possible for him to do well. In a generally prosperous NW Iowa community full of overly judgmental Republicans, he couldn’t understand why successful people would complain about their taxes, or about the needy people in the cheese line.

  6. Cory, what you have described is the sad priority that the GOP and conservatives have in economic development vs. human development.

    I am always dismayed at the conservative/Christian Right who seem to think that the Gospels preached trickle-down faith and love to do their own re-write of the Beatitudes.

    Not that the Bible isn’t filled with contradictions, but their willingness to cherry pick the book to fit their own agenda always strikes me with hypocrisy and making politics a false God.

  7. Oh crud…I forgot that corporations are people too! Thanks Citizens United! So maybe they are just reading that into the Beatitudes.

    “But Lord, when did I see you in jail?” and the Lord responds with, “Never…not one of you banks was convicted for the fraud that bankrupted families and global economies. not one of you went to jail for polluting my earth…you get by with just a fine.”

    Can I hear an Amen?!?

  8. “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

    The picture that PNR chose speaks volumes! About his Christian view of poverty, his belief that it must be people who’s skin is darker than his getting aid and that this man (who he knows nothing about) is his choice to preach his political viewpoint.

    Sorry PNR, if you want, please see if you can find other portraits of poverty that aren’t so polarizing to your own political view. Let me know if you need help.

  9. Hey PNR…here’s some pictures for you to choose from if you want to talk about government assistance.

    Here’s one of someone who receives a government handout!

  10. I never have quite bought the privates could do it better than the government (for whatever reason) argument – because privates have not. The generous outreach to the poorest and neediest has not happened – not on a wide scale – not on the needed scale by privates. It is that vacuum of service that government has stepped into. Charity has always been one of the big litmus tests of Conservative, small government philosophy for me. If Conservatives truly want to shrink big government and show the decency of man, then DO IT. Sitting on the sidelines and arm-chair quarterbacking doesn’t at all advance the Conservative position.

    If providing human dignity is the goal, why are the “job creators” not lining up to do so? Certainly a billion-dollar philanthropist/foundation could initiate a “public works” program. If that is the key, then why not do it?

  11. Happy Camper

    I remember that Startrek episode because the rich guy freaked when he learned his stock portfolio no longer existed. There are plenty of very wealthy people even around here that have no idea what to do other than build more empire.

    I’ve volunteered at plenty of non-profits and been disappointed by what I saw. At one we were washing clothes for people with AIDS supported by a thrift store. The managers were caught ripping off the place and left the state (of CA) before being prosecuted. After a while you just quit trusting. Look at what’s happening with the Wounded Warrior Project. They’re suing everyone to protect their income stream rather than serve the people in need.

  12. larry kurtz

    Rising from the ashes of the Eugenics Wars of the mid-1990s, the era of World War III was a period of global conflict on Earth that eventually escalated into a nuclear cataclysm and genocidal war over issues including genetic manipulation and Human genome enhancement. World War III itself ultimately lasted from 2026 through 2053, and resulted in the death of some 600 million Humans. By that time, many of the planet’s major cities and governments had been destroyed.

  13. I find it interesting how much society diverged away from altruism around the time of the reformation. Despite being protestant, I sometimes wonder if the move away from doing good deeds to ensure we go to heaven to the idea that all that believe will go to heaven led us slowly away from the idea of charity, or simply charity for those that meet the criteria. Sure the Catholic Church had their own misgivings at the time, but it is something to ponder.

    The other thing that we need to weigh out when considering private versus public help is how it may stimulate the economy. Does ensuring the lowest can be productive members of society benefit us more than ensuring the highest can provide goods to the lowest? Those in the highest spots tend to concentrate on asset growth versus spending, which can lead to concentration of wealth, but can also stimulate growth through things like venture capital. Whereas the bottom will take the benefits and keep them in the economy through spending with little saving. It is the best way to give the economy a nice influx of cash.
    Regardless of whether or not a person abuses or doesn’t contribute to the system, they still have needs. They will find a means to an end in whatever way needed. Anything given to them will also find its way back into the economy very quickly, versus the slow way of development.
    I think there is a balance to be had between the two, top down and bottom up. Of course we would like to see a return on investment of both.

  14. charlie5150

    I would be interested to see how the offering plate is divvied up in the church of PNR. Why are we debating the philosophy of an anonymous “preacher” anyway?

  15. Roger Cornelius

    There are profits to be made off the poor by both the government, religious non-profits and private non-profits.
    Why Kristi Noem continue to bite the hand that feeds her and other farmer and ranchers is beyond me. She complains about the food stamp program while her family and other farmers thrive from the products they grow.
    Do you think for a minute that the power brokers and industry lobbyist in D.C. want the food stamp program reduced, eliminated, or have limitations to what the poor can buy with their EBT cards?
    No they don’t, the poor are the last to “profit” from food stamps, it is Noem, packagers, ad and marketing agencies, truckers, wholesalers, mom and pop main street grocers and Walmart and everything in between that makes the “profit”.
    Do conservative republicans really want to take the risk and kill that money train?
    The same can be said of other services the poor need, if it is housing that is needed the property owners and real estate agencies make the profit. (Remember now, for those that say the poor don’t pay taxes, property taxes are passed on to the renter in their rent).
    What a ridiculous financial cycle, Noem and her family are paid a government subsidy to farm, their insurance is paid for by the government and she makes a profit from her products all at government expense and than has the nerve to complain about people that need to put food on their table to feed their families.

  16. PNR, here’s a picture of the companies that spend millions on lobbying the Department of Ag and make huge money off of the safety net.

    For God’s sake, think of the shareholders who would be hurt by eliminating or cutting safety net benefits on something so dignity denying as food!

    Which one of these giants do you think Kristi, and her merry band of pious conservatives, has said no to?

    That’s what I thought.

  17. Frank James

    I really have trouble with, “Non-judgmental subsidies of counter-productive lifestyles… ” as a Christian. There’s a lot of un-clarity in the Bible that scholars spend years debating. However, one this is clear, at least to me, Jesus didn’t think we were up to the job of judgement, at least on moral terms, of our fellow human.

    So who do we entrust to be the judge of “counter-productive lifestyles”?

    I think its important that these programs both governmental and charity do not cast a stone. Just love each other and offer a supporting hand.

  18. (We’re debating it, Charlie, because I find P&R civil, intelligent, and open to debate.)

  19. Donald Pay

    Dippy righties never understand basic economics. Private and religious charity is completely incapable of dealing with the demand. It’s a great supplement, and the people giving should continue to give, but let’s not kid ourselves that it will solve anything. When private and religious charity to the poor ramps up enough to actually deal with the problem, then we can discuss removing the governmental role in poverty programs. None of the food banks I’m aware of can come anywhere near providing the necessary supplemental food assistance.

    Regarding perverse incentives, you always have to guard against those, whether it’s the poor or the 1 percent. You can hardly build anything anymore without the wealthy and corporate elite demanding a cut of the taxpayers’ dollars. I’d say the rich need to get off the dole.

    Most of the people needing assistance work. Maybe if employers actually paid a living wage, we wouldn’t need taxpayers to subsidize the workers paid near slave wages.

  20. bearcreekbat

    Comparing charitable organizations to taxpayer funded public benefits is quite revealing:

    1a. Private charities with no federal funding may discriminate against others based on race, ethnicity, sex, etc etc.

    1b. Publicly funded organizations may not discriminate based on race, etc.

    2a. Private charities have no means to guarantee that they will have enough funds to address the actual needs of people in the community.

    2b. Sufficient funds for public projects to help the poor can be guaranteed through taxes.

    3a. Private charities have no obligation to recognize or respect the rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights in our Constitution, meaning they can restrict the exercise of speech, religion, due process, equal protection, etc.

    3b. Public agencies are bound to honor these rights.

    These three comparisons answer the question: which is better private charity or public welfare?

    Finally, Roger’s point is solid – low income folks don’t get welfare payments, rather, they merely are a conduit that hands these payments over to landlords, stores, gas stations, etc in the community. That makes fiscal conservatives objections to welfare rather comical, almost like trying to shoot themselves in the foot.

  21. Jeff Barth

    I am a strong believer in Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). We need them and… yes they can do a better job of customizing their efforts to serve individuals. NGOs do many of the functions that government would need to do if NGOs weren’t there. Who cares for victims of rape and domestic violence? Yes, the Sheriff and the State’s attorney do but the Compass Center goes to the hospital works with offenders and provides more “custom” care that government can easily do. Here in Minnehaha County there are many organizations making great efforts to help people.
    Consider our new Bishop’s House where street people and homeless folk can seek shelter, food and care. When people are unable to function within the rules of the House they sometimes get kicked out. BTW we don’t get to kick you out of jail! For taxpayers to fund an operation like the Bishop’s House would cost millions. Without parochial schools imagine the cost to have everyone in Public school. Consider countries where basic services like TV, radio and newspapers are owned by government!
    As for caring for our fellow men and women I’d refer you to Mathew 25 which talks about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison. As the Bishop said at George McGovern’s funeral, “Anyone who has gone to church, synagogue or mosque knows what God wants us to do. George McGovern did it. When we leave here to today let’s do it.”
    As a county commissioner I recognize that the reason that churches and NGOs have property tax exemptions is because they are expected to be “do gooders”. Sometimes I look at their efforts with a jaded eye but the fact is that churches and NGOs do wonderful work in my county.
    The most I can offer them is “Thanks!”

  22. larry kurtz

    charlie makes a good point: as pnr condemns the clinton foundation for opacity maybe the right reverend post the take his enterprise enjoys.

  23. bearcreekbat

    As implied in my last post, the question is whether we think poor people should be protected by our laws, or left in the cold to beg for whatever leftovers are available from charities.

  24. Donald Pay

    Yeah, Jeff Barth has a point. All that work he mentions is great, and in some areas of need nonprofits and religious organizations are more effective and efficient than governments.

    I work for a community-based non-profit that provides services to poor and disabled folks. I know that our organization does good work, but without direct governmental payments to us to provide services and to our clients to provide housing subsidies, food, etc, these folks would fall through the cracks. Our organization, at best, supplements the needs of our clients. We can’t do it alone, and government is absolutely critical in all of this.

    That said Republicans in Wisconsin are in the midst of budgets. They are trying to dismantle the community non-profit and charitable approach to serving the poor and disabled folks. They want to provide governmental subsidies to out-of-state corporations, many of whom have pledged support for Scott Walker’s presidential campaign, who will then carry out these “welfare” programs, while taking their cut off the top. Cutting out the charitable organizations seems a way for Walker to get back at many of his detractors here, while earning him campaign donations.

    Yes, the righty elites have figured out how to profit off the poor.

  25. Deb Geelsdottir

    Rorschach, Jana, Roger, Jeff, BCB – you’ve really covered the topic with great comments.

    I do have one quibble with Jana: Please don’t post any more Noem links. I read just a little of that before I began to feel nauseated. It was so icky!

  26. Deb…so sorry.

    Made me throw up a little in my mouth too. Just so darn mad at the hypocrisy, lack of empathy and lack of economic sense from the conservative sycophants like our own prairie princess of platitudes, Kristi.

  27. This standard debate about the role of the government in people’s lives is always a fascinating one, because it comes down to the belief of the role of a government.

    The use of Sowell as the base behind his theory smacks of libertarianism: A sort of Robert Nozak. Sowell is mostly a wind-bag in my opinion and lacks the depth of Nozak in seeking justification for the lack of government intervention. He is a bit too pop-philosophy.

    The problem with the libertarian basis on the role of government is that the government has no obligation to its citizens beyond protection; however, since a government is based on the people, that infers that we have no responsibility towards anyone except his or her protection.

    This is whole inadequate in my opinion about the general and right moral treatment. If you see someone bleeding to death in the street, you have a moral obligation to help. If you see someone starving to death, you should help even if it may mean that you must give up some of your food. That is the Christian thing to do. That is the humanist thing to do.

    I prefer the idea of Rawl’s view of government. If people have a moral obligation to act in a way to not disadvantage the least amongst us, and since the government is a reflection of the society, the government must act in the same way.

  28. For the record, I have long been opposed to ag subsidies of all sorts. I am not inclined to support them any more than I am to support the non-judgmental forms of welfare.

    Find me politicians who are, consistently, opposed to those ag subsidies, though. I have yet to come across any from any party. Even libertarians in ag states start hemming and hawing when it comes to those.

    No, Cory, we do not as a church read the riot act to the harlot or the destitute, but we do try to develop an ongoing relationship with them (one of the key elements, for instance, in the design of the Bishop Dudley House) in order to direct them towards more productive behavior – we do challenge the harlot to repent. That relational element of charitable work, whether at Bishop Dudley, the Banquet, Salvation Army, Union Gospel, Community Outreach, Center of Hope, Volunteers of America, or any of a number of private (although often subsidized through some one or other government program) charities I could list in this city are a key difference between them and government assistance. And they are the difference between subsidizing self-destructive behaviors and seeking to change those self-destructive behaviors.

    Government social workers do try – believe me, I know. I have worked with several in child welfare cases. Cops try, too. At least, the cops I know here in Sioux Falls do. But the limits and constraints inherent to government bureaucracies, whether police or welfare or probation or courts or what-have-you, severely limit the effectiveness of those relationships in changing the self-destructive behaviors.

  29. “ongoing relationship”—the most ongoing relationship we have is as fellow citizens, fellow members of the community. Can we craft public programs that foster that sense of community, a sense that transcends any religious or ideological boundaries? What are the “limits and constraints inherent” in policing and social services that stop us from forming that restorative relationship?

  30. FeelingBlueInARedState

    Take a look at many of the nonprofits in SD that are essentially ran by Repubs. The 2 largest community based mental health centers are ran by repub lap dogs and get great state kick backs (Solano/Behavior Management systems in Rapid City) (Graham – Janklow era darling who runs Southeastern Behavioral in Sioux Falls). How about Duggards sweetheart deal with his former employer Children’s Home Society.

  31. Cory, in answer to your bottom line question in the post, my bottom line answer is that it doesn’t seem to work.

    We’ve been at this since 1965 and yet we have still this massive divide that seems to have only deepened over the 50 years of this anti-poverty effort. Why? Sowell isn’t the only Black American to note that there seems to be more hopelessness among the Black American community today than under Jim Crow – and no, he does not want to go back to Jim Crow. But it is fair to ask why things seem to have gotten worse rather than better.

    There is clear social science work that indicates government welfare, far more than private charity, fosters a sense of dependence, hopelessness, and resentment. Daniel Patrick Moynihan – no stuck up conservative he – noted this already in the ’70s. Marvin Olasky (who is more-or-less conservative) addressed it as well in his book THE TRAGEDY OF AMERICAN COMPASSION.

    I would end corporate welfare tomorrow if I could – ethanol subsidies, wind subsidies, solar subsidies, ag subsidies, oil subsidies, coal subsidies, transportation subsidies, tech subsidies, small business subsidies, big business subsidies, and every other one you can think of. Corporate patterns of dependence on government welfare, whether at GM or at the Noem family farms are equally destructive over the long haul, in my opinion (and yes, that includes getting rid of EB-5, GOED, etc.). I was as cheered as you were to see the county board say the building permit rate of 3% was the building permit rate. Same rules for everybody. Good.

    And I am not averse to the notion of some minimal (although we might differ on how minimal “minimal” is) safety net provided via government. But the current set up seems to me not working. And my experience has always been that private organizations tend to get better results in almost all of these areas of social welfare. Better, not perfect (that pessimistic carpenter again).

  32. Deb Geelsdottir

    PNR said, “we do challenge the harlot to repent.”

    I find it fascinating that those who search for biblical support for judgmental assistance, latch onto that one, tiny bit of Scripture. This is the story behind the snippet:

    A couple are involved sexually. One of the two is married, so it’s adultery. According to ancient law, only the woman is culpable and the penalty is stoning. Before the sentence is carried out, Jesus intervenes. At the end of the story Jesus admonishes the woman to “go and sin no more.”

    Throughout the gospels tales are told of Jesus healing, saving, and resurrecting hundreds, if not thousands of people. Only in this one instance does he make even the tiniest request of the recipient.

    The adultery story must be something like .001% of the entirety. Think about that next time anyone claims Jesus supports judging who is worthy of receiving help.

  33. Hey PNR…the flash point of your discussion was the demonizing photo you used to incriminate an entire class of people who receive assistance and I bet it made you feel good.

    Got a post of a corporate welfare thug and looter. You don’t have to look far! Here’s a hint…think big bank! How about a Christian icon who looted their flock in the name of God? (Jim and Tammy Faye come to mind?)

    You say you would end corporate welfare, but your voice is incredibly silent and most likely unpopular with your flock. More importantly your timid voice falls deaf with your actions.

    So how do your political beliefs line up with the Beatitudes…they seem to be amiss and you seem to want desperately to avoid the discussion. Lazarus!!! Get your lazy ass up and get to work!

    How do you feel about the low wages that South Dakota Republicans champion that force families to be so split with working 2,3 or 4 jobs to make ends meet and severely works to destroy family time and structure? …crickets…that’s what I thought.

    There is nothing Christian about the worship of business in South Dakota and the demonization of immigrants and those that are fighting to make a meager living.

  34. “Go and sin no more”—and if the harlot takes our assistance, the goes and sins more, do we deny her assistance when she comes for seconds?

  35. Way toward the top (yes, I’m feeling non-linear tonight), R gives us the simple standard we need to keep the true conservative from turning the Noem-Rounds argument and saying, “No government assistance for anybody!” We help those who need help, who cannot feed or clothe or shelter themselves, not wealthy farmers and insurance men who can afford waterfront property.

    Good story about the well-off farmer and the government cheese. Just to clarify: was the man embarrassed to be seen in the cheese line because he didn’t want people to think he was taking help he didn’t need or because he didn’t want anyone who didn’t know him to think he was poor?

  36. MD, to accept a link between the Reformation and declining altruism, I’m going to need you to explain Lutheran Social Services. Additionally…

    Protestants continue to give more generously to their churches than do Catholics. Protestant adults gave an average of $1304 to churches in 2004, compared to $547 given by the typical Catholic. The most generous donors of all, however, were evangelicals, who averaged $3250 in church giving [“Americans Donate Billions to Charity, But Giving to Churches Has Declined,” Barna Group, 2005.04.25].

    And wouldn’t giving done from a Protestant sense of duty be more morally robust than giving done from a Catholic fear of going one’s own fat falling into the Fire? ;-)

  37. Happy Camper, good counterexamples to the nobility of private charity. The Wounded Warrior program perhaps illustrates that any human institution, given too much wealth and power, may waste more of its wealth and power on protecting its wealth and power instead of spending as much as possible to helping the poor.

    But some problems, like paying for health care, are so big that they require the biggest possible communal response. When we have to help the poor (and lots of folks above them who could be made poor by one illness), we simply have to work harder as citizens to keep government accountable.

  38. Jeff Barth

    We could do a lot better with government and private organizations working together. “Good Democrats” and “Good Republicans” have so much in common on these issues. Could make it happen if they cooperated. That may sound odd but let me explain.

    My view of a good Democrat is one that wants to help people but not enable people. Not enable folks to lead destructive lives hurting themselves, their children and society.

    A bad Democrat has no concern about the unintended effects of a “free lunch” and is ready to toss money at any problem.

    The good Republican is willing to help folks but wants to see some positive effect from government spending, bang for the buck. And lets face it, too often government programs come into existence and have few results but last forever at great expense.

    A bad Republican (e.g. the normal South Dakota Republican) doesn’t care what it is. If the spending doesn’t benefit him personally he is not going to spend a dime on it.

    With Good Democrats and Good Republicans working together we could see our problems attended to with good effect… and fewer bad side effects.

  39. But Mr. Barth, it still serves all of society when both your “good” and “bad” Republicans are vigilant against the sort of libbies you call “bad Democrats.”

    How have your breakfasts been lately, sir?

  40. Frank says don’t cast stones, just help. Assume we will make mistakes, no matter what we do. If we cast stones, will hit some innocent people, deny them help, and leave them suffering. If we just help, we will hand out food/clothes/money to some folks who don’t need/deserve it, meaning we waste resources. If we live in scarcity, the former is the wiser error. But if we live in a land of abundant blessings” as Kristi Noem shouts unto the Lord on this National Day of Prayer, can we not afford the economic cost of magnanimity more than we can afford the moral cost of stinginess?

  41. Donald reminds us that the private sector—not even charity, but businesses, the “job creators” O mentions—could cut the government assistance PNR finds so objectionable by $152.8 billion a year by paying their employees something better than poverty wages. There’s a great example of where PNR’s judgmentality breaks down. A working man comes to the government for food stamps. He’s working hard, but his employer exploits his labor and pays him too little to feed his family. Has the worker committed some failing requiring a lecture or tough love? Or is the private sector taking advantage of the public sector?

  42. Jeff Barth


    You are correct. At the Banquet in Sioux Falls no guest is “means qualified” before or after they are fed. They are just fed.

  43. “We’ve been at this since 1965″—wait, PNR: the Catholic Church gets 2,000 years, the Lutheran Church gets 500 years, the Salvation Army gets 150 years, poverty lingers and festers, and you say, “Private charity is #1!” but our concerted government effort to help people in poverty gets just 50 years, and you conclude that it’s time to dismantle the welfare state?

  44. Deb Geelsdottir

    Excellent points Jeff.

    We must remember that cheating on government programs, while a very small percentage of the total, grows as Republicans cut funds for those agencies. Fewer and fewer investigators has real consequences. Blindly making cuts is a failure. (See the IRS)

  45. “There is clear social science work that indicates government welfare, far more than private charity, fosters a sense of dependence, hopelessness, and resentment.” What reasons did Moynihan and Olasky find for that difference? What’s there to resent about government aid that doesn’t exist in charity? What does the hungry man on the street see in a sandwich handed him by a government worker that he doesn’t see in the sandwich handed him by a nun? Does that resentment and dependence arise when FEMA rolls in after a hurricane but not when the Red Cross helps people?

  46. In relation to an earlier post, (I really wish I would have asked the question here, but offered it at P&R’s site) I asked how he interprets the idea of government. I want to share it here, because I think that this is the core of all disagreements so far. Please PNR, correct me if I left anything important out:

    “Government is force. It is the power of the sword to compel behavior. That the behavior compelled is desired by a majority of the people does not make that any less so. It is incumbent upon us, then, to restrict the use of that force. The Bill of Rights, divided government (states v. federal as well as 3 branches of federal, divided legislature, etc.), and so on are intended to provide a check on the use of force by a majority. Given what government is, and given that how it functions, it will tend to do very poorly when it comes to charitable services.”

    If government is force, then any action it takes is morally corrupt. However, if all government is morally corrupt, then maybe anarchy is the best action.

  47. Jeff said

    “My view of a good Democrat is one that wants to help people but not enable people. Not enable folks to lead destructive lives hurting themselves, their children and society.

    A bad Democrat has no concern about the unintended effects of a “free lunch” and is ready to toss money at any problem.”

    I think that those are dangerous definitions. I think that there is a true disconnect when government tries to provide for those in need. We think that if you provide food assistance you have done enough, when that person may also need life skills, employment training, etc. Tossing money at the problem will not solve the problem, but neither will judging what a person really needs without listening and understanding that person.

  48. Roger Cornelius

    This country has a history of fighting unwinnable wars; Korea, Vietnam, The War on Drugs and The War on Poverty and the continuing conflicts in the Middle-East.
    Because the Office of Economic Opportunity did eradicate poverty in just a few years has been labeled a failure, I take exception to that. What OEO, Headstart and other programs did do is give the poor a voice they didn’t previously have. There were so many programs like Headstart that had advisory boards and parent boards, etc., the poor were introduced to self-governance. Headstart continues to employ thousands today and continue to provide a needed service to many communities.
    The government, religious non-profits, private non-profits have a responsibility to use the money they collect for the purposes intended. Those that aren’t fiscally responsible are not doing the carpenters work.

  49. Roger Cornelius

    The Cornerstone Rescue Mission in Rapid City provides three meals a day to the homeless and hungry community.

    The requirement to get a meal at the mission is endure a lengthy Evangelical rant from local religious sects.

  50. David Newquist

    At a time when we are deluged with statistics and accounts of what happens when an economy works for only a few and not the many, discussing who should help the poor and needy is a bit of a diversion. One need not subscribe to the material dialectic as a political preference to note the shrewdness of Marx’s social criticism. Eventually people get tired of living under economic oppression and help themselves through revolution. A government that conceives of promoting the general welfare only by protection of the people has little relevance to the many. Currently, SNAP does not cover AK-47s as food-production devices, but the thought is out there.

  51. Roger, I agree that the US has engaged in “unwinnable wars.” That started me thinking about the “enemy” in each of those conflicts. In the war on poverty, who is the enemy – who is perpetuating the poverty of so many – especially so many of color? I am afraid, like the other wars you list, one reason we are losing is because there is a history of the US supplying the enemy we are trying to defeat. The US spends a a great amount of its national treasure providing the corporate welfare and incentives to the “job creators” who have laid ruin to the inner cities and manufacturing bases in the US.

    The other reason we seem to lose wars is not engaging allies. Instead of working to destroy unions, the engine that created the middle class in America, the US ought to engage that ally to achieve victory in the war on poverty. Others have listed charitable organizations that have helped those in need – but how about working harder to eliminate the need.

  52. larry kurtz

    PNR doesn’t know his assets from a hole in his hand.

  53. larry kurtz

    PNR is a Pat Powers with a Doctor of Divination degree.

  54. Jeff Barth

    Thank you “O” for your comment about Unions.

  55. A lot to clarify/respond to, so I hope you will for give the length.

    Jana – I have not been timid, but my voice is small in regards corporate welfare – including welfare to farms and farmers. For the rest, you misrepresent me, my congregation, and Scripture in ways too numerous to counter in this forum. Peace be upon you.

    MJL – the fact that government is force does not mean it is inherently morally corrupt. Your argument is a non-sequitur. To whit, the use of force to prevent a murder is not moral corruption, therefore your argument is false. By pointing out that government is physical force, I am pointing out that it is limited to regulating behavior and that only when the instruments of government force are physically present. This is a limitation on government’s capabilities. The question of its morality is entirely distinct and refers to what purposes government force ought be used.

    JB – I think you’re on to something – not subsidizing self-destruction, and let’s see some results.

    DG – I referred to the harlot to continue the instances/analogies Cory and others were using. In truth, Jesus makes no requirements of the harlot, either. “Neither do I condemn you” comes first. The charge to “go and sin no more” comes after. The charge to cease sinning in the gospels and epistles is always a response to forgiveness already given, not the other way around. I await the responses to this admission with eager anticipation. :-)

    CH – It’s been a while since I read Moynihan and Olasky (some 30 years almost), but I would say it centers on the dignity of work and a sense of place or purpose in society. There are several factors that go into perceived value – scarcity, potential, and cost (not money, but labor – what I must do to get it) to name three. Something that is rare is typically more highly valued. Something that has greater potential, similarly. And something that takes effort to obtain is more highly valued. If everybody gets the blue ribbon, who cares about blue ribbons? But if I must work to get it, then it is more valuable to me. An undeserved award insults me, but an award I earn ennobles me – better the C I earned than the A I didn’t.

    If we set up circumstances where shelter, food, clothing can be had with almost no effort, then these things are not highly valued. When, in the course of that system, we also create circumstances where having shelter, food, and clothing does not noticeably enhance potential, they are devalued further still. And in this country, these basic necessities are certainly not scarce. This creates a set of habits – behavioral patterns – that leave one dependent, feeling as if one has no proper place or purpose. But it is the nature of human beings to want independence and purpose as any adolescent or parent of same can tell you. An adult, wanting to be independent, will over time tend to resent this dependency. Being dependent, wanting to be independent, and seeing no possible path to go from the former to the latter breeds hopelessness and anger.

    Since many commenting here want to through scripture piecemeal at me, consider the story of Ruth. Ruth took initiative to glean, Boaz made sure she was safe as she did so and also made sure it was productive work. He also allowed her to drink from the water jugs his men had drawn. But he never, ever said, “You shouldn’t have to work like that. Here, have as much grain as you like.” And in the end, he acted to ensure she had a place in that society – even if it meant she would be married to another. Work, place, purpose – helping her find these is how he helped her and her mother-in-law and, in the process, fulfilled the law of God with respect to caring for these widows. I think private charities do this sort of thing better than government programs, but I will allow that it may be possible to construct government programs around these three goals. I see that as being about as likely as ending farm subsidies.

  56. larry kurtz

    thank you doctor sociology.

  57. Douglas Wiken

    Worth reading this again,”Made me throw up a little in my mouth too. Just so darn mad at the hypocrisy, lack of empathy and lack of economic sense from the conservative sycophants like our own prairie princess of platitudes, Kristi.”

    I am not as bothered by farmers getting subsidies to produce cheap food more affordable to all than I am to those who get the aid being so damned hypocritical about it. Most farmers are not in favor of dumping free food into the hands of the lazy, but are realists enough to know that there would be no farm programs or aid for rural roads, rural telephones, rural internet, water systems, etc. if coalitions with urban politicans could not be made. Food programs are bargaining chips. McGovern and Dole were very shrewd even if their primary intention was good.

    Religions do good, but they also waste an incredible amount of money on edifices designed to impress all with the glory of God and they have burned heretics.

    I wish I knew how it would be possible to offer government aid without those getting it becoming dependent on sitting on their dead asses or procreating like happy rabbits. I don’t know, but what we are doing is not working.

    Incidentally, I do wonder what good marching on the streets will do to reduce suicides on the reservations. Marching in protest has become nearly meaningless and senseless. Marching is not the answer to much of anything.

  58. mike from iowa

    IMHO the majority of fraud in welfare programs comes not from recipients themselves,but from people who can take advantage of these unfortunates by raising rent,or food prices or fuel costs.People don’t only die from malnutrition,but also exposure to extremes in temperatures and being forced to live on the streets. Healthcare,which should be a fundamental right for everyone here in ‘murrica,is denied to too many qualified adults and children. Cut defense spending by a half trillion bucks per year and feed and put Americans back to work.

  59. larry kurtz

    There is no sector of the South Dakota economy that does not rely on some federal or state subsidy.

  60. Roger Cornelius

    “I am not as bothered by farmers getting subsidies to produce cheap food as affordable to all than those that get the aid being so damned hypocritical about it” Written by a true farm welfare dependent.
    By virtue of the fact that the government has provided countless amounts of money and many more opportunities to farmers we have made them dependent on the government.
    A couple of days ago I was discussing government welfare and ag subsidies with a welfare dependent farmer, he actually told me I owed him an apology and a thank you for the cheap food he produces. If that isn’t arrogance, I don’t know what is.
    First of all, I did not owe him any apology or a thank you and he didn’t get either, in fact he owes me a thank you as consumer for the food I purchase.

  61. Deb Geelsdottir

    Good comment, PNR. Looking at Ruth is a good choice. Your paraphrase was “You shouldn’t have to work like that. Here, have as much grain as you like.” Nope, Boaz never said that, nor indicated he might feel that way.

    Where my focus goes is not to people like Ruth, who was fit and able to work. I look at people like Naomi, who needed help. She was wonderfully fortunate to have a companion like Ruth, dedicated to Naomi’s well-being.

    I don’t want able-bodied people to get something for nothing. I agree that work well done makes the reward especially valuable in ways both visible and invisible. My focus is on those who are unable to work due to mental or physical issues.

    I’ve worked for decades with people who are struggling. My clients have included those who are severely mentally ill, developmentally delayed, etc. They are not capable of cheating, nor are they capable of making use of everything available to them. That’s why they need social workers. Yet, when funds are cut, there are folks such as those who suffer much. For that reason I will always oppose cuts to social services.

    One group that is usually overlooked is women with children who are victims of domestic violence. It is common for her to be harassed out of a job, out of school, even losing her children to a terrorizing perpetrator.

    All in all PNR, I think we are mostly on the same side, but perhaps not looking at the same population. More money to counties means more time to investigate fraud by individuals and providers. Programs become more effective, not less.

  62. larry kurtz

    Deb, you are clearly the most thoughtful contributor to this comment section in an otherwise thoughtless gaggle: it’s humbling to read you sometimes.

  63. (Larry, I agree that Deb is very thoughtful. I reject your characterization of the majority of commenters here as a thoughtless gaggle. Roger, Donald, Rorschach, Jana, Nick, John, Les, Happy, Greg, Troy, Lee, PNR, even Daniel… I could read the whole roster of intelligent readers who take a chance on contributing to our conversation and learning, and I’d dismiss none of the aforementioned and very few of the rest as “thoughtless”. Take a cue, follow Deb’s lead, and avoid the unnecessary personal attacks and generalizations.)

  64. DG – well said. As I read the story of Ruth, I also see Ruth as acting to provide for Naomi a purpose and a place in society. Refusing to abandon her is a way of saying Naomi has a place – a connection – even though she feels as if she does not. When Ruth takes initiative to glean in the fields, Naomi responds and offers some counsel as to where to glean – she participates in Ruth’s work and begins to revive the hope that had died with her husband and sons.

    Even among those you mention, it is vital to find ways to achieve those three things – work, place, purpose. It’s one of the reasons I support places like Hope Haven, approve of work-release type programs for prisoners, and similar programs and institutions that demonstrate “disability” is not the same as “no ability.” Our church supports one of the larger worship services geared specifically for severely mentally handicapped people. We get a lot of help from Augustana students and faculty and I only wish we had the volunteers to keep it going longer (presently it runs only October-April) and make it larger. As the old folk song has it, all God’s creatures got a place in the choir.

  65. Deb Geelsdottir

    Thank you Larry. There are several commenters I have a great deal of respect for.

    And thank you PNR. We don’t disagree. I’m curious about what church you lead, but I understand the need to maintain anonymity.

    Of the dozens of clients I’ve helped here in MN, only one was cheating to receive benefits. The various people who worked with her knew she was, but none of us could prove it because she was very skilful and time and personnel for a thorough investigation were lacking. She, and those behaving like her are such a small percentage of the whole that it would be a terrible thing to do deliberate harm to the 99% in an effort to catch the fraudulent 1%. If more money was allocated, more investigating could be done and the one I described could be caught, arrested and punished.

    Everyone I know who works in the field of human services would love to make it work better, but budget cuts make that impossible. Lies and distortions by Republican leadership make the problem worse. It makes me very angry to see the most vulnerable people, those unable to help themselves, as the targets for harm.