The Tragedy of American Compassion
by Marvin Olasky

The 19th century methods of helping the poor were moralistic, paternalistic, and controlling by 20th century standards. They used shame and "tough love." They included institutions such as the Erring Woman's Refuge and the Society for the Prevention of Pauperism. People who devoted their lives to serving others were opposed to legal or statutory relief, because they knew it tended to pauperize by removing the need for self-help and discipline. It causes a relaxation of concern by the poor for their own improvement, because they do not have to depend on their own foresight and industry. It increases their helplessness and poverty.

The people who helped the poor had personal knowledge of the people they helped, because they worked with them at the local level. They regarded the causes of poverty as moral failings. Alcoholism was the major cause of poverty (75 to 90% of the cases). Illegitimate children were another major cause of poverty. They were careful to distinguish between the worthy poor and the unworthy. They emphasized the need for the poor to change their world view, not merely their worldly conditions. They acted as intermediaries and brought the giver and receiver together.

Benjamin Franklin was appalled at the British welfare system (page 43). It was common knowledge in 1834 that,

"The more paupers you support, the more you will have to support." (pages 43 and 243)
Compassion through government programs has made things worse for the poor in the 20th century. AFDC discourages savings (people lose benefits if they save more than $1000). One reason for the failure of government programs is that, unlike private programs, they cannot act with discernment. Government has to follow rules blindly.
"It is money scattered without judgment--not poverty--that makes the pauper." Jacob Riis (page 116)

"The state as the instrument of rights, can give nothing to any man without conceding that it is his right to receive it. Therefore, the state is the worst possible dispenser of alms." Robert Ellis Thomson (page 129)

Helping abandoned women leads to more abandonment (page 139).

Welfare programs are an insidious attack on the family (page 140).

Year Read: 1996


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