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Lori Rivas: Welfare is a form of compassion

Posted: August 14, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 14, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Recently, my 14-year-old son and I were walking through downtown Monterey, and we passed a homeless man. My son asked if we could give the guy some money, but since I was out of cash, we bought him lunch, instead.

Later, my son said, “Imagine if everyone who walked by that homeless guy gave him just a little bit of something — food or money — imagine what a difference it could make.”

Indeed. While many conservatives decry government aid to the poor in favor of private-sector assistance, how many individuals actually help the poor? Reach out to, say, the homeless, on a daily basis? How much is the private sector really improving the economic fabric of the poor?

An article earlier this year in Christianity Today (“The Best Ways to Fight Poverty — Really,” Feb. 10) cites research from the Brookings Institute demonstrating that worldwide poverty has been halved since 1980, primarily because of macroecomonics of big government — you know, the oft-decried Keynesian practices that brought our country out of the Depression and into economic expansion after WWII.

The Christianity Today article further refines that the private sector is not, and numerically cannot, be the source of this dramatic decline of worldwide poverty.

That’s right. It is macro, not micro, economics that is rapidly closing the poverty gap worldwide.

It is the corporate institution, not the individual, that is having the largest effect on worldwide poverty, as reported in Christianity Today, that bastion of evangelical news.

My point, and that of the article, is not to discourage private giving — there is obviously a need for individuals caring for each other on a one-to-one basis — but, rather, to challenge those who purport to care for the poor and yet cast their votes with the very politicians who aim to curtail the type of universal aid which only a government can provide.

The predominance of self-identifiying Christians, those whom God mandates to care for the poor, who rationalize saving their money, keeping their money and making more money over tangibly supporting the poor, amazes me.

So often, I hear conservatives repeat, “I would rather keep my tax money and have the freedom to donate to private charities of my own choosing.”

But, what if, as the Christianity Today article suggests, private charities just cannot match the depth and breadth of macroeconomic government aid?

What is a compassionate, conservative person to do when faced with facts that belie the mantra of inefficient and ineffective government aid?

May I suggest that you vote for the system that sets out, and has been proven, to benefit the poor? May I suggest that you eschew the political soundbites of “hand-up, not a handout” and re-align your political mantra to those programs that have proven success?

There are those who will counter that a simple handout will not make a long-term difference; that real help for the poor is partnered with the kind of moral teachings and behavioral requirements that only a private charity can offer.

First, it is not our job to judge how a recipient will use charity, but rather our job to give. God makes that point fairly simply and often: Our job is to give freely. Whatever the recipient does with the charity is between him and God, but we have fulfilled our mandate by simply giving.

Second, I offer the recent, innovative example of Project 50 from the county of Los Angeles. A project to offer housing and services to the chronically homeless, without any requisites of sobriety upon entering, has proven not only to be successful in getting folks off the street, sober, and employed, but has even saved money.

How’s that? A government program with no strings attached is a social and monetary success? How’s that for turning your political world upside down?

In what kind of society do you want to live? One in which individuals can opt out of charity, as is man’s natural inclination of greed and self-preservation? Or one where we collectively decide that caring for the poor is a corporate responsibility of us all, funded by mandatory taxes?

When is the last time you housed the homeless? When was the last time that your church provided medical care for all those who presented at the ER without insurance?

Which private charity is reliably and consistently feeding nearly every qualifying poor child two meals a day and providing monthly, stable food assistance to individuals at or below the poverty line?

That would be none. And that is why we need macroeconomics and welfare of a central government.

Pay your taxes. Help the poor. It’s as simple as that.

Lori Rivas is a Newhall resident.


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