Misuse of Assistance Hurts Anti-Poverty Campaigns

Mar 24, 2009

My good friend sent me the following quote from an article in his local paper:

A family of four in England tips the scales at a combined 1,100 pounds. They can’t–don’t want to?–work, so they live off taxpayers, collecting the equivalent to take-home pay of $42,000, on top of the “free” universal health care for assorted ailments linked to their morbid obesity. The family, of course, is grateful for the government’s generosity with other people’s money. Not exactly. “What we get barely covers the bills and puts food on the table,” says the father in demanding bigger government handouts. “It’s not our fault we can’t work. We deserve more.” We wish we could say this isn’t typical of people on the dole everywhere.

The information provided leads one to condemn that family and the policies that allow them to collect the money they get without working. Of course, without more specific information I cannot comment on that specific family. For example, they could have some weird illness or injury through no fault of their own. Or, if two or three of the family members are children, I think $42,000 is too little to securely raise children and would advocate for more for the children. But they could just be lazy people who could take care of themselves but who choose to not take care of themselves and leech off the working class.

Regardless of what that specific family does, there are many people in this world who do simply leech off the working class. That includes families who could work and take care of themselves but instead choose to take advantage of charity and anti-poverty assistance. Even more, it includes rich people who leech off the working class taxpayers from government spending such as the executives and share-holders of bailed out companies and the industries who receive large subsidies, contracts and favors from governments, such as the military industry and the private-owned prison industry.

Yes, let’s condemn those people who use resources meant for the needy who do not need them. They take advantage of probably well-intentioned but poorly administered anti-poverty programs. They misdirect funds to themselves that could have helped relieve actual poverty. They are not poor but are people who could live out of poverty without the assistance they lazily choose to take. They leech off of the working class, a form of legalized stealing or sometimes outright fraud. But perhaps even worse they make the general public skeptical of anti-poverty campaigns, programs and spending.

These lazy, greedy people and what they do raises an age-old wisdom I often point out on this blog: We need to find efficient, effective ways to help people help themselves. We need to teach people to fish, not unconditionally give them fish.

There is a major poverty problem in our society that needs to be fixed and that we would all benefit from fixing. There are many honest, hard-working people who are in poverty, near poverty or at risk of falling in poverty not from laziness or their own bad decisions but because of corruption in society and other external forces that could throw you or I into poverty just as easily and unfairly.

But with the limited funds currently going to solve the problem, it seems that we can only afford to give fish to hungry people rather than teach them to fish. In yet another analogy, we are spending $10 a day to scoop water out of a sinking boat rather than investing $100 today alone to fix the hole in the boat.

Doing and spending less in the short-term to solve problems like poverty costs us more in the long-term. But it also leaves room for those lazy, greedy people to take advantage of the inefficient, ineffective and short-sighted system. And by making the general public more skeptical, people want to put even less resources towards scooping water out of the sinking boat than we do now and even more unwilling to invest the big money now to fix the hole entirely.

In other posts, I have pointed out the fundamental, inherent flaws of government spending. I also wrote in my last blog post, “Ideally speaking, I see a society in which nobody suffers from poverty, where people don’t go hungry and homeless down the street from an overstocked grocery store and a vacant house. In that ideal society, neither taxes nor government spending would be needed.”

The less poverty we have, the less anti-poverty campaigns we have for lazy people to misappropriate. The less poverty, the less anti-poverty government spending.

So we can almost all agree that we need to reduce poverty as much as possible and ideally eradicate poverty entirely. We need to invest in doing that. To do that we need to change the methods we use to be more cost effective in the long run rather than the short run. We need to make sure the resources of anti-poverty campaigns and programs help those truly in need help themselves. And we need to NOT let those other greedy, lazy people misuse, misdirect and misappropriate resources and scare the general public into reducing the funding, efficiency and effectiveness of anti-poverty campaigns.

Please discuss the above blog post in this thread at the Philosophy of Politics Forum.

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Children suffering from Poverty