I know, some will gasp in abject horror and even cry out while tearing their clothes, “Why do you hate the poor?” This is an emotionally charged issue to be sure but MCOI has never really shied away from controversy. Although I am not suggesting we forsake the poor I am suggesting we follow the arguments used for abandoning the war on drugs to answer whether we should continue the War on Poverty. Consistency in political social policy is as important as consistency in an individual’s life. The parameters are fairly simple and I think Sting did as good of a job as any in his March 2010 piece, Let’s End the War on Drugs. He argues that is has been, “…the most unsuccessful, unjust yet untouchable issue in politics…” While it may not be the “most” unsuccessful” it has been pretty unsuccessful and it is for the most part “untouchable,” politically at least. What are the criteria Sting used to demonstrate his point?
The War on Drugs has failed — but it’s worse than that. It is actively harming our society. Violent crime is thriving in the shadows to which the drug trade has been consigned. People who genuinely need help can’t get it. Neither can people who need medical marijuana to treat terrible diseases. We are spending billions, filling up our prisons with non-violent offenders and sacrificing our liberties.
This is all fairly simple to understand:
1) The Federal government is spending billions but there has been no noticeable change in the drug trade.
2) It is actively harming our society.
3) Crime has increased in spite of the war on drugs or perhaps because of the war on drugs.
4) Some who actually do need certain assistance which currently illegal drugs can provide cannot get it. (On the other hand, some who have learned how to game the system can get medical marijuana legally).
5) The crimes committed which are being prosecuted are filling up our prisons.
I have touched briefly on the issue of “The War on Drugs” in Anthony Weiner, the War on Drugs and Moral Questions and now as then, my concern isn’t really the war on drugs per se but the criteria and how it is loosely applied in areas which liberals, whether political or religious, seem to apply to one issue while turning a blind eye to another equally important issue which is also failing for all of the same reasons used to abandon “The War on Drugs.” Why is that? There is a serious inconsistency of application by opting to make decisions based primarily on emotions. Like the War on Drugs, the War on Povery is an abject failure and it is politically untouchable.
Being that I believe humans are sinful by nature and will do wrong as much as society permits there may be appropriate limitations to what one may legally do but perhaps the best enforcer of behavior is community and family peer pressure rather than Federal control. But that is perhaps a discussion for another day. For the moment, if we should abandon “The War on Drugs” shouldn’t we also abandon “The War on Poverty”?
By 1999 the Federal Government had spent over 5 trillion dollars on “The War on Poverty.” That is a tidy sum of taxpayer money to be sure. What did we have to show for it? James L. Payne wrote in his article, ”Why the War on Poverty Failed” in the January 1999 issue of Freeman. Even though this article is over 13 years old, it is as up to date as this year’s Federal budget and certainly more accurate. A sampling may be helpful:
In a front-page story on poverty in rural Kentucky, Michael Janofsky detailed the failure of this effort in the one region that was supposed to be the centerpiece of reform. “Federal and state agencies have plowed billions of dollars into Appalachia,” he wrote, yet the area “looks much as it did 30 years ago, when President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty, taking special aim at the rural decay.”
Janofsky visited Owsley County, Kentucky, and found a poverty rate of over 46 percent, with over half the adults illiterate and half unemployed. “Feelings of hopelessness have become so deeply entrenched,” he reported, “that many residents have long forsaken any expectation of bettering themselves.” For years, the government has been trying to treat the despair with welfare programs: two-thirds of the inhabitants receive federal assistance, including food stamps, AFDC, and SSI disability payments. This, it now appears, is part of the area’s problems.
“The war on poverty was the worst thing that ever happened to Appalachia,” Janofsky quotes one resident as saying. “It gave people a way to get by without having to do any work.” Local officials told him that “many parents urge their children to try to go to special education classes at school as a way to prove they are eligible for [SSI] disability benefits.” (The senior class at the local high school picked as its motto, “I came, I slept, I graduated.”)
This is not confined to Appalachia but is the trend across the system. ”Why the War on Poverty Failed” is well worth reading in its entirety. A more recent article, “The Democrats’ failed ‘War on Poverty’ is still failing” by Kimberly Morin points out:
The original intentions of ‘welfare’ were as a temporary ‘hand up’ to help those who were in desperate need due to circumstances out of their control. That is no longer the case in Boston or anywhere else in the country. Democrats have created an entire segment of society which consists of people (their voting base) who believe that they are entitled to housing, food, clothing and healthcare paid for through the taxes taken from others who actually work for a living.
Out of wedlock births are more common in this segment of the population, regardless of race, as it increases the amount of finances given to single mothers with dependent children. It has also impacted the church serving this population. Churches that had at one time been theologically and socially conservative are now a strange mix of being socially liberal and theologically conservative or moderate. The moral base is not being inculcated in the youth. Crime is up. In Chicago, for example, shootings and gang assaults are making it more dangerous to be in Chicago than Afghanistan.
The solution would be a return to personal responsibility and return charity to being done locally. Biblically there were various forms of charity. For those who were not physically able to work, the family and community cared for them but these were exception cases. For those who were able to work other provisions were made. Farmers were not to glean the corners of the field when harvesting which left provision for the poor. But, the poor were expected to so and pick the food themselves. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul was clear that if someone didn’t work, neither should they eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10). In 1 Timothy 5 the Apostle starts out this section with the injunction that it is the family’s responsibility to care for the widows (1 Timothy 5:3_5). He follows up with:
But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
For those who do not have family, he outlines the criteria for adding a widow to the rolls for support in verses 9-16. Even then there were expectations of work they would perform for the church.
Some years ago someone did a study which concluded that if each church and synagogue adopted 4 families to care for, we would eliminate welfare in the United States. That doesn’t mean eliminating poverty. I don’ think we will do that this side of the Lord’s return. It does mean that the trillions that are currently being frittered away in the “War on poverty” could be turned back to the tax payer who could then see it used through the local institutions they trust. Those in need would be known better by those who are locally involved and concerned and this would also be a strengthening factor in the communities as involvement of individuals replaces the nameless, faceless bureaucracy.