Helping the Poor

Economics, Politics by Adam on 2006-06-28 04:00

Arnold Kling tackles some problems with a welfare-state approach to providing aid to the poor. Some choice clips:

“Government programs persist not because they help to alleviate social problems but because they develop political constituencies. Thus, we have a food stamp program, when the number one nutritional problem among the poor appears to be obesity. I am not saying that I don’t think that poor people need help obtaining food. But a program that was focused on poor people rather than as an indirect way to aid the farming constituency would probably operate rather differently than our existing food stamp program. With government, political goals inevitably interfere with what from an idealistic perspective would be the “public good” intent of a program.”

“Charitable organizations are better than government as a source of aid. First, it is easier for donors to hold charitable organizations accountable than it is for taxpayers to hold government accountable. A failed government program can go on forever. An ineffective charity has a more difficult time obtaining funding.”

“Those organizations that work directly with poor people stand a better chance of learning how to meet their needs than people who lobby in Washington on behalf of the poor.”

“Charitable organizations are better suited to dealing with the pathology of poverty. When people get checks from the government, they tend to think of this as an entitlement. They are getting money in exchange for doing nothing. They learn that this is how you get money — you take it from others. Taking money from others is what criminals do. Productive people get money from other people by exchanging something of value.”

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