The way we help people does not help people

The highest form of charity, argued the 12th-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, is when the help given enables the receiver to become self-sufficient.

But our systems of state charity – aka welfare – have too frequently had the opposite effect: they have actually created dependency. It is time to re-think the way we help people.

I’m going to suggest something that many might find upsetting and outlandish – that welfare would be more effective, more varied, more widespread and affordable if there were no state involvement.

People instinctively think that without a welfare state, the poor and needy would not be looked after. At such an unacceptable prospect, people then become fervent in their defence of state welfare systems. You can see the passion people feel about this erupting all over the Twitter and the blogosphere.

Before we start, I want you to get your head around one thought – suggesting that the welfare system is not working and that we should do away with it is not the same as suggesting the poor and needy should not be looked after. Not at all – in fact, quite the opposite.

Care is complicated – and it’s not just the recipient who matters

The provision of care is a delicate, complicated and unpredictable process. Sometimes money might help the recipient towards self-sufficiency, but sometimes not. Giving money might lead to a temporary lessening of suffering, but often it can lead to greater dependency and less self-reliance. Sometimes something local is required, sometimes something practical, sometimes something psychological or emotional, sometimes something specific to the individual’s circumstances – sometimes what’s needed is a proverbial kick up the backside. Different circumstances require different forms of care.

The dignity of the recipient also needs to be considered. It can be demeaning to receive charity. On occasion anonymity might be required – but on other occasions it might not be.

How on earth can anyone hope to design a top-down, one-size-fits-all, system of state welfare that can meet all these varying needs consistently over time?

Then there is the matter of the giver. He or she must also be considered.

Compassion, care and the giving of charity and care are essential human functions – they are a part of human nature. People need to give as much as they need to receive. You just need to see the pleasure children get from giving as evidence of this. Even perhaps the most ruthless, murderous drug-trafficker that ever drew breath, Pablo Escobar, was a prolific giver. He built houses, churches and schools in his native city of Medellin on a scale unmatched by the Colombian government.

In the charitable process, the giver has needs too. Sometimes the giver wants to be anonymous – sometimes they want recognition. Sometimes he or she likes to be involved with the recipient in some way, sometimes not.

But, in the process of state care, the giver’s needs are not even considered. Taxes are taken and that is it. We are given no real say in how the money we have earned is spent, bar a vote of dubious effect every five years. Often the giver is morally opposed to what his taxes are being spent on!

The forced giving that is taxation actually destroys the altruistic satisfaction that people get from giving voluntarily. To help others and to share with them is part of humanity. But, in a world in which government is responsible for the care of the poor and needy, that compassion is removed from life. As a result, the state now has a near monopoly on compassion!

In fact it is even more bizarrely specific than that: the pro-large-welfare-state left wing has the monopoly on compassion. Anyone who doesn’t agree with the concept of a large, generous welfare state is deemed heartless and selfish.

How the state destroys people’s ability to give

While you have to pay the government through tax to provide welfare (or heathcare or education) your ability to provide any of these things for yourself or your family is reduced, because you have less money. After taxes are taken from you, you often can’t then afford to pay for your children’s school, your doctor, your hospital, your home, or your charity to others – so you find yourself depending on state help in some way. And so more and more people, in some way or other, are caught in the ever-growing dependency net.

What’s more, if the state is providing care to the needy, you are then absolved of the responsibility to do so.

Meanwhile, government welfare, as well as being inflexible, is expensive. The large organisations, such as the NHS or the DWP, through which care is administered can be inefficient and wasteful. Worse yet, they are be prone to corruption and rent-seeking (people gaming the system in some way).

If you look at food, clothing or technology – essential human needs that, largely, are not supplied by the state – we have, over the last thirty of forty years, seen dramatic falls in price and dramatic improvement in quality. Competition has driven costs lower. Yet welfare has not experienced the same improvements. Why not? Because, thanks to the state’s near monopoly, there is no competition.

The idea of competition in welfare is offensive to many. But we need it if we are to improve quality and lower costs.

The greatest expense in our lives is not, as many believe, your house or your children’s education, it is in fact government. But imagine a world with minimal state. Suddenly that expense is removed. Without the cost of the state, we have more capital to spend and invest. People are empowered. Our ability to help others is increased.

In a world with no state, what’s more, suddenly our responsibility to help others is also increased. If the state is not helping people, you must. Simultaneously, thanks to competition, the help we want to offer is cheaper, more varied and better in quality – organisations are competing with each other to offer better help at a lower price.

The result will be more affordable welfare, more widespread and diverse welfare, more flexible welfare that can provide for specific needs, more effective welfare, more onus to provide welfare – ultimately, better welfare.

Without a welfare state the poor and needy won’t be looked after, you say? I suggest they will be – to a much higher standard than they are today.

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16 replies on “The way we help people does not help people”
  1. says: Paul Marks

    The Jewish philosopher Moses M. was echoing Aristotle – handing money (or goods) on the basis of poverty is like pouring liquid into a container with no bottom on it.

    There is also an assumption that many people have that those who created the Welfare States wanted people to be free and independent – that it was just a matter of “unintended consequences” that the result was the opposite.

    Sometimes this assumption is too kind.

    The Fabians who wrote the “Minority Report” on the Poor Law were NOT compassionate people (see the “Fabien Window” for what these people were really like). They were not like the people who wrote the “Majority Report” who had spent their lives VOLUNTARILY helping the poor with their own hands. The people who wrote the Minority Report (which eventually served as the foundation of the British Welfare State) were not compassionate, they did NOT want to help people become free and self reliant. And the intentions of politicians (such as David Lloyd George) who choose the Minority Report over the Majority Report are suspect – there was a lot of “let us copy Prussia” (for the sake of copying it) and VOTE BUYING (class war politics – as old as Pericles, turning people in Athens against each other, and Cyrus the Great, promising the goods of the Medes to the Persians) at work.

    In the United States people such as Francis Fox Piven (of Cloward and Piven) certainly did not have good intentions – they actually wanted to increase the number o people dependent on government as much as possible. And such people still dominate American Welfare State policy – check out the people who actually wrote the details of Obamacare.

    Politicians such as the late President Johnson bask in the light of “helping the poor” – but they do not actually write the details of American government policy, and the people who do write the details do not have good intentions – their intentions were (and are) utterly vile, to destroy (utterly destroy) Civil Society.

    So “the law of unintended consequences”? Sadly no – it is much worse than that.

  2. says: chuck martel

    There’s another way of looking at people like Francis Fox Piven. Engaging in a constant struggle with their ideology while it has a spot in the market place of ideas hasn’t eliminated it. Maybe they should be allowed to implement their programs, which logically cannot succeed, observe the destruction of the paradigm that has promoted them and start anew.

  3. says: Paul Marks

    Chuck might be described as the Pol Pot option – the collectivists do their worst, and the survivors rebuild (or try to rebuild) society.

    However, as these people do seem to be well on track to victory (with “Social Justice”, i.e. collectivist Hell-on-Earth, being considered the highest good by just about all the leadership of the world – including the Pope) it seems this may well happen.

    Total and absolute failure to prevent it – failure by me and everyone like me.

    I deserve to be executed for my failure – and hopefully I will be.

    1. says: George Thompson

      No Mr. Marks, you do not deserve to be executed for your perceived failure. Most of us were simply too busy minding our own affairs to notice that the chefs we had entrusted with the preparation of our dinner were, in fact, cooks who had placed us like lobsters in a cauldron of cold water being slowly brought to a boil. But there is still time to jump out of the pot and snap our claws shut upon the ample posteriors of those who would devour us. We may have committed the grave sin of complacency, but atonement is available and will not cost either you or me personally more than our being executed would.

  4. says: Craig Howard

    Maybe they should be allowed to implement their programs, which logically cannot succeed, observe the destruction of the paradigm that has promoted them and start anew.

    And spend 70 years as the Russians did waiting for it to collapse? It would probably take even longer in the US given the tremendous amount of capital to be destroyed.

    And, though the Russians are, perhaps, better off now that they’ve thrown off the shackles of Communism, life there is hardly any triumph of individual liberty. Your suggestion is tempting, but too dangerous.

    1. says: George Thompson

      Mr. Howard, as a Yank albeit of British Descent (English, Scottish and Irish) I can proudly proclaim that under its current chief executive the USA is no longer ranked in the top 10 of the most free nations of the world. As our beacon of liberty slowly but surely sets in the West, I fear it will take even longer than your ‘even longer’ to restore us to any semblance of the dream from our Founding Fathers, and more than likely a great deal of bloodshed will be spilled in the process. The ideas so eloquently penned by Thomas Jefferson dated July 4, 1776, had a gestation period of at least 3 to 4 millennia, back to the time when a man first conceived the idea that there is indeed a higher power to which all people are subject, no matter the circumstances of their births. When the progressive socialists finally extinguish Lady Liberty’s Torch, it will possibly take at least as long to relight it.

      The 2014 Index of Economic Freedom was provided in The Wall Street Journal article “America’s Dwindling Economic Freedom”By Terry Miller on 1/13/2014. The top 10 nations are 1) Hong Kong, 2) Singapore, 3) Australia, 4) Switzerland, 5) New Zealand, 6) Canada, 7) Chile, 8) Mauritius, 9) Ireland and 10) Denmark. The United States is ranked #12 and the United Kingdom #14. Since Hong Kong is a special administrative district of communist China (#137), personally I would rank it much lower.

      Give a man a fish, and he’ll need another tomorrow. Teach a boy to fish and he will be empowered to live a free and prosperous man.

  5. says: Paul Marks

    As for the list. Switzerland is too finance dependent (although not as finance dependent as Britain is) and is surrounded by the E.U., Ireland is hopeless, Denmark is also E.U., Chile has just fallen to the left, and Mauritius and Singapore and vulnerable.

    That leaves Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

    Canada is too close to the United States and has a massive property bubble.

    That leaves Australia and New Zealand.

  6. says: waramess

    The most important opportunity to alleviate poverty in the developed world would be full employment.

    Absolutely no reason why this should not exist other than the huge consumption of resources of Western governments but we will have to wait for a collapse of the system before this can be addressed.

    The most important opportunity to alleviate poverty in the developing countries would be the abolition of tariffs on all imports particularly escalating tariffs that effectively bar developing countries from industrialisation.

    No chance of this either so long as the developed world insist on continuing their protection of otherwise non viable manufacturing processes.

    The situation is very clear: the assylum was taken over by the inmates a long time ago and they are not likely to accept a change in their beliefs until a collapse finally forced on them.

    Poverty will continue and it will continue to be dealt with by the left throwing scraps to the starving.

    1. says: chuck martel

      “The most important opportunity to alleviate poverty in the developed world would be full employment.”

      Another fallacious exposition of the equality of man. A huge portion of the world’s population is unemployable in any meaningful sense, that is they’re incapable, for a variety of reasons, of adding value to a product. In order to employ, and pay them, they will have to be subsidized by those that are productive, either voluntarily or through coercion.

      Poverty is subjective. A man with a T-shirt is wealthy among the naked. Poverty has many causes, and a lot of them originate in the personality of the impoverished.

  7. says: Paul Marks

    waramess – as you know, full employment can only be achieved if wages and conditions of work are determined by supply and demand (not government edicts),

    But this is exactly what, for example, the activists involved in the “Arab Spring” wish to PREVENT.

    This is why Revolutions tend to take the Labour Market further and further AWAY from a free market.

    More and more regulations (and government support for unions – see W.H. Hutt “The Strike Threat System”, with “picketing” and other paramilitary tactics) occur – and more and more unemployment.

  8. says: Paul Marks

    Collectivism can produce poverty and mass unemployment in the middle of prosperity and opportunity.

    Take the example of South Dakota – one of the lowest taxed States in the United States and a right-to-work State where union thugs are not allowed to use force to get people to give them money (or to force people to obey their orders).

    People come from thousands of miles away to get jobs (both skilled and UNSKILLED) in South Dakota – yet there are strange “islands” of terrible poverty and mass unemployment.

    The “native American” (citizens since 1924) reservations – where government welfare and collective land ownership (under tribal councils) rule.

    All around these places people are crying out for workers – and not just for skilled work (unless one considers washing dishes skilled work) yet these islands of mass unemployment, poverty and drink and substance addiction just sit there.

    And the population of them is growing.

    Welfare and collective ownership do not work economically – but they work biologically.

    As long as there is a Civil Society (“capitalist” society) to drain resources from.

    By the way – those tribes that allow private ownership of land and whose members reject welfare, prosper.

    So there is nothing “racial” in this.

    1. says: chuck martel

      The case of the South Dakota natives, and other remnants of the original inhabitants of the continent, is a complicated one. It really is amazing that the slavery issue that was supposedly resolved by the deaths of over a half-million men and the destruction of millions in property, followed by constitutional amendments and extensive legislation, has remained a never-ending subject for politics but the actual government policy of extermination of the Indians standing in the way of “Manifest Destiny” is by and large ignored.

      As is normally the case, the general American population assumes that everyone else should have the same world-view and value system that they possess. Parts of the native American population, only a couple of generations removed from a neolithic tribal society and a culture with a very different set of values, even today has problems adapting to those of the European invaders. The problem is a nation/state that after subjugating them hypocritically maintains that it has given them freedom while confiscating their property and continuing to regulate their lives in ways unknown to the rest of the country.

  9. says: Paul Marks

    Chuck actually Progressives in the Federal government actually went around (the best part of a century ago) actively encouraging tribal collectivism and denouncing indians as too indivudalistic.

    When they are allowed to own land as individuals (rather than have it under the tribal councils) and are free of welfare, indians are the same as other people.

  10. says: Rich Osness

    Full employment is easy. No one is more fully employed than an aborigine struggling to feed himself and stay warm, or more impoverished. The key to prosperity is greater production not just staying busy. It was once said in the Soviet Union: “We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us.” One cannot consume what has not been produced. Greater capital investment usually means higher production, allowing greater consumption. Unstable or corrupt governments discourage capital investment, sort of like Equador, Greece or the South Dakota reservation I was working on three days ago.

    I currently live in South Dakota and grew up in Montana. I have spent time on western reservations working with tribes and individual Indians for more than sixty years. Young Mister Marks described the situation quite well. They are victims of government; national, state and tribal. Their tribal governments at best appear to be well-meaning. But, after awhile it is difficult to believe that the cronyism is accidental. At worst they are brazenly corrupt, not unlike Chicago, New York or the city where I live. I believe the tribal leaders learned this from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. I don’t KNOW where our mayor, governor or congresswoman learned it, but I believe it is taught in our public schools.

  11. says: chuck martel

    “The Dakota or Sioux in Minnesota As They Were in 1834”, Samuel W. Pond, Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, 1986.

    Their eyes were on all kinds of fruit, watching the ripening process. Berries of all kinds were industriously gathered. In a word, they diligently sought out everything edible, whether it grew on bushes or trees, on the ground, or in the mud at the bottom of the lakes. While some were digging all day on the prairies for a peck of wild turnips, others were in the water up to their arms, exploring the bottom of the lakes in search of psinchincha. Nothing was so hidden that they did not find it, nor so hard to come at the they did not get it. P.58

    Industry and enterprise were nowehere more highly prized than among the Dakotas, and a lazy man or woman was regarded as a public nuisance, for if one did not work others must work the harder. It is natural that white men who know little about the Dakotas, when they see many of them unwilling to engage in agricultural labors, should regard them as lazy, good-for-nothing fellows. But in regard to such labors they felt, as many a white man feels, disinclined to them and unfit for them. Many white men, having been educated for mercantile or professional business, and accusstomed to no other, would be as unwilling to engage in hard labor on the farm or in the workshop, and would prove as inefficient there as an Indian; and yet perhaps some of these very persons, who are both unable and unwilling to mow a swath or plow a furrow, and who, when thrown out of their ordinary employments, are a burden to their friends, declaim against Indian indolence and inefficiency. p.65

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