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How Not to Help the Poor

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"Artim:

Alan Colmes, who co-hosted with Sean Hannity on FOX’s “Hannity and Colmes,” claims that Jesus “believed the rich should give to the poor.” Obama and most of Congress seem to agree. Let’s assume that Colmes’ analysis of Jesus is correct on this point. This is a far cry from saying that productive people should be taxed and that the government should redistribute their income to the less fortunate (Prov. 6:6–11; 13:4, 18; 19:15; 20:13; 21:25–26; 24:30–34; 28:19). A person who refuses to work is not to be assisted: “If anyone will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). For any government agency to violate this principle is in violation of the eighth commandment: “You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15). Civil government is not exempt from God’s law. To believe otherwise means there can be no objection to socialism, communism, or any other ism.

The Gospel narratives do not call on the Roman Empire or Israel to help the poor except by limiting the State’s power (Luke 3:13–14; Matt. 22:21). Jesus makes it clear that it’s the individual and the collective responsibility of the believing community to help the poor within their circle of influence. The goal should be to get people out of a temporary condition of poverty; the goal is never to subsidize poverty.  David Chilton’s comments are helpful on this subject:

The local administration of charity is crucial. It ensures that funds go to those who are truly needy, rather than to professional paupers. The charitable aspects of the tithe did not mean simply a handout to everyone who lined up. Charity is to be dispensed by responsible leaders of the covenant community who are in daily contact with the needs of the people. The general principle still holds: those who won’t work don’t eat. Those who attempt to live by a welfare ethic are quickly exposed in a locally-administered program, and will be unable to get away with “mooching.” Even in charity, God’s law teaches responsibility.[1]

Liberals like Colmes believe that redistributing wealth by taking it from the rich and giving it to the poor will create an equitable society. This is the great liberal myth. Taxing policies designed to create social programs inhibit economic expansion in the business sector. Without an expanding economy, businesses can’t grow. If businesses can’t grow, they cannot hire new workers.

Liberals believe that the remedy for economically displaced workers, a condition their policies often create, is to raise more taxes and subsidize the unemployed. This is state-sponsored slavery under the guise of compassion. It has the effect of squelching the incentive to work and creates a perpetual underclass that is constantly appealed to by liberals so they can stay in power. Those dependent on the State most often vote to increase the power of the State out of self-interest. Murray Rothbard observes:

State poor relief is clearly a subsidization of poverty, for men are now automatically entitled to money from the state because of their poverty. Hence, the marginal disutility of income foregone from leisure diminishes, and idleness and poverty tend to increase further, which in turn increases the amount of subsidy that must be extracted from the taxpayers. Thus, a system of legally subsidized poverty tends to call forth more of the very poverty that is supposedly being alleviated.[2]

Private charity eliminates the political empowering of a poverty class. The incentive of governments is to keep people dependent and grow the base by classifying more people as below the poverty line. There is little motivation for the poor to abandon dependency because the initial rewards from employment are minimal. Why put in an eight-hour work day, travel to and from a job, pay Social Security, federal, and state taxes for only a little more than what can be gotten by sitting at home and receiving a check at government subsidized housing?

Since the implementation of the “Great Society” program in the 1960s, the number of those designated as poor has increased. What have we gotten with the infusion of more than two trillion dollars of tax-payer money to help the poor? Charles Murray’s analysis shows that “Progress [against poverty] stopped coincidentally with the implementation of the Great Society’s social welfare reforms. . . . Huge increases in expenditures coincided with an end to progress.”[3] When something is subsidized, you get more of it. When Aid to Dependent Children was started, we got more dependent children. “If the State is going to pay me for having babies; I guess I’ll have more babies. It’s free money.”

Conservatives, many of whom are Christians, understand that a free economy, private property rights, and substantially reduced tax liability are the best remedy to help the poor. Those who can’t work and take care of themselves can be cared for by the generosity of people through churches and private agencies. With less money taken in taxes, more money can be given for real charity work that can be overseen by local agencies that have no connection to politics.[4] Politicians need dependency to stay in office. Eliminating poverty threatens the political ruling class that grows ever richer.

Liberals will use the Bible when they believe it can be used to defend a position that supports their agenda. An example is a 2002 Alabama Law Review article that “applies the moral principles of Judeo-Christian ethics as a basis for urging the citizens of Alabama to insist that Alabama’s elected political leaders reform Alabama’s state tax structure.” The author, Susan Pace Hamill, a former Internal Revenue attorney, states that while her approach might seem “unusual,” the “principles of Judeo-Christian ethics offer moral arguments that complement and often strengthen secularly based ethical arguments illustrating the need for social reform.”[5] And all the people said, “Amen.” Actually, only liberals said amen because they saw a way to increase the power of the State through guilt manipulation.

I believe every state’s tax structure should be overhauled based on the Bible, not by increasing the role and size of the State but by decreasing them. In a free economy, the poor have easier access to the job market since there are fewer price obstacles placed on employers. The poor are often not hired because they lack skills. Employers find it difficult to take the chance of hiring the underemployed because of the upfront costs involved, especially when profit margins are low: The minimum wage, insurance, the time it takes to train a new employee, travel, reliability, etc. Many will balk at the minimum wage assertion. There are two reasons why we have a minimum wage: inflation and unions. Inflation is caused by governments since only governments can increase the money supply artificially. Unions are protected by government over against employers. An employer might take a chance on an underemployed worker if the price is right, but the government doesn’t allow price competition below a fixed point.

The best way to stimulate the economy is to lower taxes, radically decrease government spending, eliminate dependency (welfare) programs, and remove obstacles for employees and employers in hiring.

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Endnotes
[1] David Chilton, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators: A Biblical Response to Ronald J. Sider, 3rd rev. ed. (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1996), 55.
[2] Murray Rothbard, Man, Economy, and State (New York: New York University Press, [1962] 1975), 818.
[3] Charles Murray, Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950–1980 (New York: Basic Books, 1984), 63.
[4] See John Jefferson Davis, Your Wealth in God’s World: Does the Bible Support the Free Market? (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1984); Robert H. Bremer, American Philanthropy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, [1960] 1982); Marvin Olasky, The Tragedy of American Compassion (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1992).
[5] Susan Pace Hamill, “An Argument for Tax Reform Based on Judeo-Christian Ethics,” Alabama Law Review 54:1 (Fall 2002), 3–4. 

 
Article posted July 6, 2009

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