As part of the explanation for instituting a “living wage” in Lucas County, the commissioners claimed that they would be helping the “poor.” That their new regulation will probably hurt those they’re most trying to help seems to be a possibility they ignore.
We’ve been fighting the “war on poverty” for decades and still we have poor among us. Even Jesus taught, “For ye have the poor always with you,” so we should not be surprised. In fact, considering the varying skills, abilities, ambitions and interests, we will always have those who have “more” and others who have “less.”
Knowing that no society or civilization has ever eliminated poverty, the question is what to do about it. Sadly, how to address such situations becomes mired in political rhetoric, campaign promises and conflicting approaches.
Liberals believe the best way to help the poor is for the government to do so. They see the obligation to help those less fortunate as a task of the nation, administered through the bureaucracy of government.
Conservatives believe that the obligation to care for others is an individual one — not one that can be abdicated to government.
These two positions are diametrically opposed, and both sides think the other is wrong.
Liberals purport that the scope of the problem is so large that only government is capable of addressing it, that programs such as Medicaid could never find an effective alternative in private compassion or in the work of such entities as individual churches.
In reality, churches, individuals and charities are capable of meeting the needs of the poor, and in a much more personal and direct way. There are usually no lines to stand in when requesting assistance from your church, unlike the lines and processes inherent in a facility like the Department of Jobs & Family Services.
The problem comes in when individuals who would normally give of their resources — money and/or time — fail to do so for any number of reasons. Some see their obligation for charitable acts as optional. Others, seeing that their funds are taken in the form of taxes, come to believe that they are helping in a broader way by “giving” to the government who then “gives” to those in need.
As more people come to rely upon the government to provide such care, the government grows in the care it provides, coercing “charity” by levying even more taxes to pay for the services they claim are so desperately needed. It becomes a vicious cycle.
Of course, we all know that government programs are far from efficient and rarely as effective as privately run ones. And politicians in charge of such programs use them and the funding for them to “buy” support, constituencies and votes.
Marvin Olasky, in his book, “The Tragedy of American Compassion,” identifies several principles that mark a successful charity:
n Charity should encourage affiliation with the needy person’s local community, church and family;
n It should form a bond between the needy and the charitable;
n It should organize the needy into different groups, depending on their type of need;
n It should seek to establish the needy person in a long-term job;
n It should emphasize the freedom of being able to provide for oneself; and
n It should recognize the spiritual and not just material needs of the poor.
Government cannot do these things, but individuals and local charitable organizations can. Most people, regardless of political philosophy, will agree that private charity is superior to government charity. If that is the case, why has government found it necessary to step in and do what we know it is not good at?
Could it be that those who profess to believe in the obligation to be charitable have failed to practice what they preach?
Rather than bemoan the increasingly intrusive role of government, we all need to step up and make the need for such “nanny-ism” as limited as possible. We do that by volunteering, donating and performing the acts of charity that meet the needs of those less fortunate. We also need to encourage our fellow citizens to take on the individual responsibility for helping others so that the government sees a decreasing need — not an increasing one.
We cannot accept the fact that, because government is using our tax dollars, we no longer have such obligations. We do not have to passively accept an ever-expanding role of government. But if we do not want to see government assume even more of these responsibilities, we have to perform them ourselves.
Former Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber blogs at thurbersthoughts.blogspot.com.