“Let’s make poverty shameful again”

Found a post via Instapundit that I’m struggling with as I’m keenly aware that as a Christian and especially as a Catholic, the poor and the dispossessed demand my empathy.

But I tell you, there’s a point being made here that simply screams for attention:

During the Great Depression, my Grandpa Dave worked for the Works Progress Administration building roads.    (This was FDR’s failed “stimulus” plan.)  I heard about how he would come home exhausted and drenched in sweat.  He worked himself half to death, because he was ashamed  to be receiving public assistance and wanted to prove to himself that he had earned his pay.  That   is the attitude we need today.  Instead, we have created a culture where women think it is perfectly OK to make a career out of being sluts, pumping out babies, and expecting the public to take care of them and their bastards.

I have the solution.  Let’s make poverty shameful again.  Let’s expurgate the entire concept of “entitlement” from our public discourse, and go back to the concept of charity. Poor people should feel pitied. Instead, they feel oppressed if they don’t think the government is doing “enough.”

See, I have no issue with a social safety net.  I just think the beneficiaries of this net should be grateful and embarrassed.  Instead, we have a growing population who thinks they are “entitled” to food stamps, AFDC, Section 8 housing, a free cell phone, health care, a nice hot lunch for the kids instead of Mom packing a lunch box (even in the summer), and on and on. 

The “entitlement” mentality perfectly suits the massive bureaucracies that support their dependencies and are very well paid to do so, and the fraudsters who prey on the system. So, in America we have “poor” people who, by any global standard, are living large with cable TV, air conditioning and internet access. Meanwhile, the average taxpayer is getting raped.

In order to stop this, poverty needs to be understood as it used to be — something that is shameful.

It’s true that the entitlement culture has taken the shame and stigma out of being poor and this I think we can lay at the feet of the bureaucrats and their ideological supporters who think poverty is solved by simply taking from the haves and giving to the have nots.  But we also need to be careful not to use this as reason not to reach out to those who truly need reaching.  Discernment and prudence are more necessary than ever as what is available to give is limited by tougher economic times.

We are where we are today because I believe we’ve ignored the principle of subsidiarity:

The government has many necessary and indispensable functions to play, roles that cannot be accomplished by individuals acting alone or even by smaller groups in society.

Yet states and governments often exceed their legitimate role and infringe upon individuals and groups in society so as to dominate rather than to serve them. To combat this tendency, Catholic social thought emphasizes the principle of subsidiarity. Non-Catholics also have discovered this principle. Abraham Lincoln wrote: “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all or cannot so well do, for themselves — in their separate and individual capacities.” Government should be as small as possible, but as big as necessary to accomplish whatever needs to be accomplished that cannot be accomplished in any other way. National defense, interstate cooperation, and treaties with other nations are obvious examples of matters properly undertaken by the federal government. Administration of the criminal justice system is another example of a matter that properly pertains to government.

On the other hand, the government should not intervene to attempt to alleviate all problems. A welfare or “nanny” state, offering cradle-to-grave security and attempting to provide for all human needs, expands the state beyond its proper scope and violates the principle of subsidiarity. Pope John Paul II explained:

Malfunctions and defects in the social assistance state [or welfare state] are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the state. Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: A community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good. (Centesimus Annus 48)

This overreaching by the state leads to situations that are both inefficient and detrimental to human welfare:

By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the social assistance state leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbors to those in need. (Centesimus Annus 48)

When should the state intervene and when should governmental authority refrain? Such questions are difficult to answer outside of the concrete situation, for they depend upon prudential judgments about particular situations. People of good will, including Catholics who are attempting to put into action Catholic social teaching, may legitimately disagree about whether a given piece of legislation or governmental intervention is warranted to alleviate a social problem. Many social questions, such as, “Should this welfare benefit be offered to people in this particular situation?” do not admit of an answer that would be binding upon all Catholics. Nevertheless, all Catholics are obliged to work to find solutions to contemporary social problems in light of the Gospel and their best practical wisdom.

We are indeed obliged to work to find solutions and to use practical wisdom. The poor need our help, our duty is to best determine whether our attempts to help are truly helping.  But the author of the initial piece is dead on that society has been hindered by the removal of the stigma of languishing in poverty.

God grant us wisdom.

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