In the comments section under Jessica Mazzola’s article for NJ.com, Hunger in N.J.: Counties hit hardest by food insecurity—which I covered in my last post, glork said:
This is an ongoing problem and a space filler for the newspaper. Just a thought, what if all these "Emergency Feeding Programs" took, say, a 6 month leave of absence ? Wouldn't it be interesting to see how people might use some ingenuity and motivation to take care of themselves ? Charity is a noble virtue however, this is fostering a dependency at the most basic level. Parents who cannot put peanut butter on bread or pour milk over cereal in the morning and "need" meaning "want' the schools to compensate for their indifference to their own children have already sent the message that "someone else will take care of it for you" to the next generation. [sic]
Michael Regenelli retorted
We tried that, for most of human history. People starved. You act like things like school breakfast just popped out of nowhere and made everyone lazy, but they came about because we were seeing that a lot of poor kids were coming to school hungry because they weren't eating breakfast, and because they were hungry they weren't learning. You say that we should run an experiment to see what would happen without these programs, but we already did, and the results of that experiment are why the programs exist. You think poverty is bad now? You think crime is bad now? Go back 100 years.
I left this reply to Regenelli, edited for clarity:
The “experiment” we tried was capitalism, the system of individual rights and limited rights-protecting constitutional government, and it was a spectacular success, ending centuries of perpetual economic poverty and stagnation when almost everyone lived on the knife-edge of starvation as the normal course of events. How? Buy protecting people’s freedom to work, trade, and keep what they earned. Go back 100 years and you'll find that "being on the dole" was considered shameful personal failure, as America as a culture valued personal responsibility. You’ll find that by 1916 economic progress was so established that Americans came to expect each generation to be better off than the previous, because the slogan “You can’t stop progress” was taken for granted. Life for the average person was getting better faster in the 19th and early 20th century, relative to prior conditions, than ever before. You'll find that charity for truly indigent people who physically couldn't care for themselves and had no family to rely on was plentiful, as a wealthy capitalist economy can afford a level of charity no prior system could possibly dream of. You'll find that hunger and famine—the natural state of man—was already conquered long before the vast welfare state made us all less prosperous than we could have been.
Even with all that progress, more was to be built from that. You’ll find that poor people today have it better than John D. Rockefeller at the peak of his Standard Oil, who didn’t have electric lighting, indoor plumbing, cars, dishwashers and washing machines, telephones, movie theaters, radio, or tv, central heating and even AC, and a myriad of other luxuries. Granted, life was harder 100 years ago [relative to today], despite a prior century of great progress. But we had something to carry us forward to the progress we enjoy today; a morality of self-responsibility. That morality has been eroded by a morality of entitlement, and that’s not good for America’s future.
It is important to add that no one is arguing against voluntary charity or people getting insurance against need and poverty through such voluntary associations as mutual aid societies, which existed before the welfare state killed them off. I am arguing against forced government redistribution programs and the view that life and economics is a zero-sum game. Articles like this one, which focusses on “gaps” rather than human problems—as if wider food insecurity is preferable as long as we are equally hungry—are designed to build support for forced redistribution by instilling unearned guilt for the sin of being successful at taking care of yourself.
Another correspondent, clemenza, also wrote in reply to glork (and indirectly to me):
Starving children are the issue. Certainly your points are not completely invalid and I even agree with some of what you write. Still, there is no perfection in the implementation of feeding programs. There will always be abusers but they should not stop a society from doing the right thing. For the record, I am a Republican, ex Wall Streeter and now do quite a bit of volunteering in South FL feeding programs. Maybe you should try it and just look into the eyes of a few children and see the expression on their faces as their folks collect their food.
Again, no one is arguing against the fact that sometimes people need help. No one is arguing against voluntary charity. But what is better: advocating for the social conditions and individual virtues conducive to human flourishing—conditions and values that the regulatory welfare state is eroding—so there are fewer people who need the help, or merely perpetuating the poverty with government-enforced handouts? I would think that, even as clemenza does her (assuming she is a “her”) volunteer work, she would want to make her own work less needed.
I am arguing against the cult of comparison, as if flourishing is something to be ashamed of rather than celebrated. I am arguing against a worldview that fosters scapegoatism, encouraging people to not look to themselves to solve their own problems, but to blame others’ successes. The tip-off that points to the real motives of the anti-inequality crusaders is in their unqualified focus on childhood hunger. Why, for example, is there an no mention of the role of the parents in regard to “poor kids were coming to school hungry.” Should the parents be investigated for child neglect? Or is it all the fault of people who live in Hunterdon County—where, by the way, school feeding programs also exist. I am arguing against a psychology of self-worth as tied to how one stacks up against others; a psychology of envy and resentment rather than pride and self-esteem.
The “gap” crusade is all of this, and it is no solution to legitimate need, or a means of separating legitimate needs from abusers. There is no call whatsoever for dredging up gaps or inequality in the context of discussion of unmet needs—except, of course, to implicitly blame the non-poor for the struggles of the poor. Those who do seem more in favor of demonizing non-poverty than alleviating poverty. They are up to no good.
Capitalism In No Way Created Poverty, It Inherited It—Yaron Brook and Don Watkins
The Capitalist Manifesto: The Historic, Economic and Philosophic Case for Laissez-Faire— Andrew Bernstein