Spot Reflections on Welfare

beggarsmall1Spot Reflections on Welfare

Could the stake handle 10% unemployment?

3,000 members.

300 in unemployed families.

The census says there are about three people per household, in our case, 100 families.

$50,000 per year per family.

$5,000,000 per year.

Plainly, the stake cannot provide this through fast offerings. Presently, we collect a fraction of this. Every person or family that pays fast offerings would have to increase their contribution many-fold.

Unemployment has risen to 7.6% nationally. It could easily reach 10%.

Work Equals Dignity

A friend asked to borrow $1,000. Melani and I lent it. The recipient still feels guilty, not having paid anything back. He avoids meeting me on the street. He stays away from church. I should have provided work.

A friend needed an operation for gastric bypass. He was a slick talker. Melani and I utilized some correct principles. We had a lengthy interview in which we found out that his family was contributing. That’s one good thing. We should have paid the doctor directly, not him. As one safety, there was an account set up to which we mailed the money. But we should have provided him with work. But we gave $500.00. We did not apply all correct principles.

A friend called to borrow money. I said, “Give me some time.” I called back after supper and said, “I’ve got some work that needs doing. Would you like to do it?” He said, “Sure.”

We worked together. He was a good worker. I thought about scolding him when I paid him, in this manner, “My wife would be really disappointed to know that this money went to buy alcohol.” I could tell he was a drinker, a prime reason for his financial straits.

“No,” I thought, “he earned this money fair and square. He doesn’t have to listen to me moralizing.” He was trying to quit drinking anyway.

I paid him. He kept his dignity. He did not grovel. Work equals dignity. All of our giving should be done in a way to preserve dignity. In fact, earned money is not “given”, it is earned. We are not “giving” when we pay. The parties stand in equality to each other.

Once a friend needed $2,000 to rent a U-Haul to move to the East. I knew he had guns. He wanted to borrow the money. I asked for the guns for collateral. He found another means. We are still friends.

Bishops err in not insisting on work because work is supervision-intensive. Overseeing labor requires management and management skill. First, a task has to be invented. Then it has to be watched, inspected, and measured. Bishops do not have extra time.

If two families asked to board with Melani and m, how could this arrangement be dignified? What could they do? The cleaning. Snow removal. Neighborhood tasks such as sign and trail improvement and weeding the common area flowers. Such tasks would probably not be sufficient. I could start an Education Institute. I would supervise the lodgers’ tutoring of 3rd graders at Whittier. Heaven knows there are dozens of kids who don’t know what 7×3 is. I am fully aware that the program would not succeed without leadership. It would cost me, too. I would set the standards and goals, make the arrangements, measure the progress and keep time cards.


The last time I offered food to one that looked like a beggar- filthy clothes, burnished face, beard, duffel bags – he waved me off dismissively. Even the homeless come in degrees of need. And they have their pride. He had what he needed and was too smart to burden himself with more than he could carry. (This is a wisdom that eludes many.)

It is important to know a person’s need before prescribing solutions. Sometimes we think we know, but we are haughtily jumping to conclusions. How sorely knowledge is needed in the business of charity! It comes not in a rush. It is often lacking. Givers are supercilious. The benefactor can be simultaneously condescending and misdirected. Much government charity melds the two.

I washed dishes at Loaves and Fishes, Livingston’s volunteer, church-run soup kitchen. It is a model of Christian charity. Some eaters showed gratitude, but some were dour, not engaging in conversation with their server. One vivacious 30 year-old man poked his head in the kitchen.

“Can I help you do the pots and pans?” he asked.

“I’ve got it taken care of,” I said.

My mistake. Always allow self-help to the greatest possible extent. I had robbed him of a way to feel he had earned his supper. Subconsciously I may have been keeping the satisfaction to myself, a subtle superiority claim. Thomas Sowell in The Quest for Cosmic Justice explains this as one thing that motivates architects of government welfare. They feel so good “helping” the poor. They have to maintain a corral of poor patrons in order to themselves feel valuable. They like feeling that they have saved people. Thus, they perpetuate poverty. (All the while using other people’s money.)

The benefactors feel smug; the poor feel entitled. If we apply proper welfare principles, such as “re-enthroning work”, we will drain both swamps, Smugness and Entitlement. The two feelings run in tandem and reinforce each other like two drunks propping each other up.


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