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The Therapy Sessions
Saturday, November 15, 2003

Poverty Politics

The other day, a friend of mine was complaining about the Republicans. I’m voting Republican now, not because I love them, but because I really hate Democrats.

To this friend, though, I might as well be Trent Lott.

The reason he hated the Republicans, he said, was their image of government: no sympathy for the downtrodden, no help for the poor.

He was interested in helping people.

Or so he said. I asked him: how often do you give money to charity? He looked confused, but then admitted that he rarely did.

My major beef with Democrats: though they don’t like to give to charity themselves (in general), they want to take MY money and force the government to “help” the poor with it, so that THEIR consciences will feel better.

Even large numbers of very affluent Democrats feel this way (remember Al Gore's tax returns?)

This has been a suspicion of mine for a long time. Now I have some proof (thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the link).
This is a table of the most generous states.

The red states – the cruel, heartless, red Republican states – give the most money to charity as percentage of their income.

The caring blue states – the loving Democrats – tend to be very stingy, despite their wealth. The three richest states – Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts – rank fairly low in giving: 16th, 35th and 30th, consecutively. They are Democratic bastions.

Why give to charity when you can force the government to do it for you?

The poorer Republican states are far more generous, and they dominate the top twenty:
South Dakota
South Carolina
North Dakota
West Virginia
North Carolina

Where are all the caring Democratic states? New Hampshire is dead last, Maryland is 32nd, and Illinois is 35th.

So what?

I prefer private charity. Private charities have two advantages: they can choose whom to help and they can induce shame.

Shame? How could I say shame?

I mean it.

The poor eighteen-year-old girl with two children, no diploma, and no husband does not need to be told that her poverty is not her fault. A wad of cash and society's confession of guilt does nothing for her.

She has to learn that these things - having children out of wedlock, quitting school - were mistakes. It may be too late for her (though maybe not), but her children need to look at her and say "there is no way I'm letting that happen to me."

This is how you fight poverty: teach people the path of success.

If a person stays in school, doesn't get pregnant, avoids addiction, gets married after the age of 25 and stays that way, the chances that she will be poor are nearly zero.

Charities often do this. Good charities take in the lowest of the low: people who admit their mistakes, have hit bottom and need a little help to (and are prepared to endure the shame of) getting back on their feet.

Government has no metric for contrition. It can only determine that anyone who falls below a certain income level or fits certain criteria gets a check.

This government function (welfare) requires limited shame from the poor, and, as a result, it serves as incentive.

Getting a government check and food stamps so that you can raise your baby in YOUR apartment on YOUR own might not sound like much of incentive to most of us. Particularly when the apartment is in a bad part of town.

But try running it by a poor twelve-year-old girl. It sounds like a continuous summer vacation, with a TV to watch and a cuddly toddler to play with! What fun!

My wife and I are not stingy. We give to charity regularly. But our non-charity expenses come first, mainly because they are not optional. Each month, we spend about $1700 on day care, $1250 on mortgage, $1500 on taxes, $500 on food, $400 on utilities, $250 on transportation, and $800 on retirement savings (which is a necessity for our generation, thank you baby boomers!). We don't ask for sympathy or "help." We are quite happy, even if things are a little tight.

There is not much left at the end of the month for chairty, but we do manage to give.

One charity we will never give another dime to is called IHN.

Instead of money, one week we gave our time - helping this charity out as volunteers. There were several people this charity was "helping." But it was pretty clear to us after an hour or so that this charity wasn't doing these people any good. It was treating these people like children - giving them a nice big place to play and feeding them expensive junk food (that I wouldn't waste money on for my family).

How, under such circumstances, can you expect people to grow up?

My wife and I left IHN so frustrated and angry that we could hardly speak. Far from fighting poverty, charities like IHN just accomodate it.

But they are light years ahead of government: Government - though its false incentives and wonderful programs- actually creates poverty for future generations.

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