As a kid growing up in a Catholic home, I always felt a push to help those who are in need. I went to Catholic schools and was always required to do service hours, but every time I would go above and beyond (this isn’t to brag, rather I just wasn’t the best at sports as a little guy). However, I was still taught by my dad the principles of economics and business. I found it very hard to reconcile pure economic freedom with my hope to curb the plight of the poor. This was a struggle that I carried through high school and college as I learned more about economics, the governmental social programs, our tax system and the way these work together. I knew that economic efficiency would be maximized through lower taxes and regulations. This would even create a better quality of life for the poor as productivity gains would make more goods better and more affordable. Despite this, I still felt that there should be a safety net, and couldn’t think of another entity to handle this besides government, at any level, to fill in where charity fails.
Recently, I’ve studied more and have decided that there are ways to accommodate for the poor better in a truly free market and that often it is government getting in the way of us helping people. I have had trouble arguing on principle in a manner that doesn’t sound cold. But, for those who disagree with that and cite religious arguments of greed against the free market while allowing government to handle this, I say, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.” I argue that it is not the government’s job to take care of people. God tasked us with that personally. The government is an institution we implemented to help us regulate ourselves, but when it does not allow us to be free to help our fellow man, rather it steals that ability from us, we offer to Caesar the work which we should offer to God. There are places in America where it is illegal to just buy food from the store to give to the homeless. This only is a rule so some government-funded organization can justify its existence because after all “these people need help (since we won’t let you help them that is).” So to those who argue in favor of government programs through Christianity I ask, “why do you let Caesar offered it gone what you should be offering to God?” Tasking the government to care for the poor is to pass the responsibility which we have been charged by God. We wash our hands of this responsibility as Pilate did, but water doesn’t wash away culpability.
Despite this, I do have thoughts on solutions. My first is that we should seek to take care of ourselves. How can we take care of others if we cannot do so for ourselves? How can we remove the splinter from our neighbor’s eye if we do not remove the beam from our own first? I do not find it selfish to ensure our own livelihood so that others do not have to do it for us. The rich have the ability to create charities, give directly to the poor, and, most importantly, create opportunities for others to help themselves. Next, we should turn to family and community to help us if needed. This means also that families and communities must be prepared and able to help their neighbors as well. We should look to support charities rather than government organizations because they are much better at helping people. Less than half of the money funneled into the welfare system reaches the people it’s meant to help. Even the most inefficient charities would have to strive for that sort of poor performance. Lastly, we should give people the freedom to find new ways to help people. By allowing people to innovate in the charity sector, as we do for technology, we might actually see it become better and more affordable the same way technology has done.
I do not claim to have the answers, but I can look at the government social programs and their effects and honestly say that they have harmed our poor. We have created a system that’s only outcome is reliance on it, snaring our poor and accusing any who offer alternatives of heartlessness. Instead, I want us to search for a solution that teaches to fish rather than giving them fish. I want us to stand beside our poor and journey with them out of poverty. We should stop placing the responsibility on others and assume responsibility for the outcomes of those in our community. We should allow for more freedom so that people can pursue their interests and use their talents in innovative ways. I can’t solve every problem, no one person can, but we can each solve what we can. Let’s take back responsibility for the least of those among us, hold fast to the family and community institutions that provide a safety net, and provide for ourselves first to prepare ourselves to help others.