Points of Light
a book by Tamar Ann Mehuron
(our site's book review)
As Harvard’s Glenn Loury says on the back cover of the book: “The new vision of how to help the poor declares that the only defensible objective of government effort on behalf of the needy is to bring an end to their need for support. That this is a feasible goal for public policy is amply demonstrated in this excellent collection.” This anti-social engineering plea says that government cannot be a substitute for the family, church, and civic organizations in promoting the values and attitudes that produce a whole person. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan says in Family and Nation, “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”
Quit looking to social engineering superheroes and rely on local community efforts
But social engineering has fallen into disfavor and disrepute, since the programs that help people’s pocketbooks harm their character and tend to create dependency, and the bureaucracies that administer the programs often get the lion’s share of the money before any gets to the people and the problem.
The bureaucracies that administer social programs often get the lion’s share of the money
When the Vietnam War was being lost, at first protesters and eventually most everyone was saying: “Give peace a chance; you’ve tried war and it flopped; now try peace.” The conservatives are obviously telling the liberals the same sort of thing now: “Give culture a chance; you’ve tried politics and it flopped; now try culture.”
As Werner Erhard of est used to say: “The difference between humans and rats is that rats will go up a cheeseless tunnel only so long before they quit and try a different tunnel, while humans will go up a cheeseless tunnel forever because they have a belief: they know the cheese is there.”
Humans will go up a cheeseless tunnel forever because they have a belief: they know the cheese is there
Analogously, liberals "know" that social engineering works, so regardless of how bad it works when they try it, they keep doing it, like the rats, above, learning nothing when it fails, and assuming the reason it didn’t work is that they need more of it, oftener, and faster. (Ouch! . . . ) But now that the liberals are off-trend and the conservatives are on-trend, it’s not politically viable to sell their “salvation by big government” propaganda anymore, so the smarter ones, like Bill Clinton, not only moved to the center but even stole some of the conservatives’ issues, like welfare reform. Anyway, we needn’t debate whether liberals are really “dumber than rats.” We need only examine how we can all act as though we’re all smarter than rats, whether or not this is, indeed, the case. And that’s where Points of Light comes in.
Mickey Kaus offers the brightest plan in the book. For all able-bodied poor of both sexes and all races, replace AFDC, general relief, food stamps, housing subsidies and other welfare programs with one simple one: a job offer at a slight bit under minimum wage for all Americans over eighteen years old. The job would be useful and in the public realm. You’d be given the address of several public job sites. You either showed up, worked, and got paid or you didn’t. Period. Those who were late, troublesome, or engaging in substance abuse would be kicked out and have to fend for themselves with no other safety net. Which is perfect! Natural consequences at their finest.
Worker at a public job site
Be a decent, hard-working citizen or be a hungry one. This is like Roosevelt’s WPA program but this time around it must be real work and supervised carefully. Now when people do criminal things, there will be no more liberal guilt about the absence of jobs. Obviously, it would also be expected that those with real ambition would do both of the following: teach themselves new skills and knowledge in their spare time and avail themselves of all available job training and vocational opportunities. Those that goofed off in school and learned nothing would have tougher going, while those that learned a skill would succeed best in this plan. Natural consequences at their finest, again.
Public works workers should teach themselves new skills and knowledge in their spare time and avail themselves of all available job training and vocational opportunities
If a woman has kids she has no way to support in spite of these realities, then she’ll be facing the fact that, unlike in the past, she now will be held accountable for her actions. Her kids are her decision and her responsibility. She has no business having them if she has no way to support them. They should be given up for adoption unless she can get married or receive family support of some kind. It should be a crime to bring kids into the world one has no intention/means to support. To act like the underclass is a collection of basket cases that are too dumb and irresponsible to work but they’re human so they deserve the “right” to have a family that WE take care of with our taxes is liberal drivel.
(Liberals that buy into this nonsense are free to give away their white-guilt-saturated money to the irresponsible poor, thereby enabling them and exacerbating the problem and expanding the underclass. Conservatives know better. For the working poor, childcare support and some food stamps paid for by taxes makes sense. But for the irresponsible poor, natural consequences should be in effect. If they don't try, if they pass up job opportunities, if they want to act like parasites rather than citizens, let them go hungry.)
Liberals may wish to spend their money on the irresponsible poor, thereby enabling them and exacerbating the problem and expanding the underclass, but conservatives know better; the problem is that bleeding hearts try to get income taxes to pay for this foolishness so we support it too!
Parenting is a much harder job—if done right—than normal work. Isn’t it obvious that a person who is too messed up to work will do a predictably terrible job of parenting? Also, it’s racist to say things such as "ghetto inhabitants (or other underclass people) have such low capabilities that they cannot work, so how can we expect them to?" All humans have worked in one way or another for tens of thousands of years. Are we to believe that there’s a sudden genetic flaw operating and a new subspecies incapable of work is evolving? Poppycock! Recall that all poor folks used to be willing and eager to work until liberal elites and Hollywood movies and the media convinced them that work was a humiliation that was exploiting them, thereby creating a whole group of people who turned to crime to try to go from being Have-Nots to being Haves.
Are we to believe that there’s a sudden genetic flaw operating and a new subspecies incapable of work is evolving? (Many seem quite capable at committing crimes!)
“At the core of the culture of poverty is the core conviction that one is not responsible for one’s fate, what psychologists call inefficacy.” They feel at effect, not at cause; their lives run them, they don’t run their lives. Until they are brought up better, these poor aren’t likely to change these attitudes. (MCs are the way that poor people drop their old ways and turn into responsible, tax-paying citizens who not only work and care for their kids, but are happy and thriving as they do so. See Why Register for an MC?.)
Registering for MC search and match
Lawrence M. Mead says that work programs won’t work with people who have no work ethics. Such people quit low-paying jobs all the time because they don’t like them, because they’re lazy, because the real world is a shock to them, and because their parents did such a bad job of instilling the American work ethic. The answer, for public jobs done for money that comes from taxpayers, is enforcement. You work or you get no pay—period. James Q. Wilson says that the development of character must be a central concern of public policy in this area. And, of course, that is the key issue. When bad parenting and dysfunctional lifestyles leads to dysfunctional people, how can one expect anything relating to such people to go right? (MCs are specifically designed to elicit good character in people.)
Myron Magnet says that by focusing on the errant poor rather than on those who are working hard and doing it right, and by telling the underclass that they are victims and none of their plight is their fault and the bad things they do are excusable, we let those who are doing the right thing—working in low-paying jobs—know that they are chumps working for chump change. The smart ghetto inhabitants, according to this line of thought, would be those who watched the whites go through their racial guilt agonies and end up rewarding these nonworking ghetto “victims” without expecting anything in return.
These slackers were set up to fail and expected to fail, so that liberal whites with morally relativistic values would be able to have a cause in their meaningless lives: they could "save the oppressed blacks from the nasty white oppressors." Magnet says that the worst mistake of all is when we exempted the welfare class from the responsibilities of citizenship. He wants to restore them to the community but realizes that this would require a cultural revolution. (This whole website is centered on inspiring just such a peaceful cultural revolution, as you may have noticed. And it's about way more than empowering responsibility—it's actually about empowering our lifestyles to work much better than we ever imagined they could, in the areas of childcare, elder care, relationships, communication, community functioning, happiness, self-actualization, and autonomy.)
Magnet says that the worst mistake of all is when we exempted welfare class slackers from the responsibilities of citizenship
And part of what needs to happen is Head Start-like day care. When conservatives argue that kids are better off at home with their mothers, they are indulging in wishful thinking. Some kids are better off with mothers, and some are better off in day care. Kids are statistically much safer physically in day care than at home. And four out of five families that are reported for child abuse are welfare families—mostly unwed single mothers.
Studies show that kids are much better off in most cases in good day care than they are in welfare homes. The day care kids go further in school and are dramatically more law abiding and self-supporting, as well as less likely to have illegitimate children or be on welfare. Such programs save $7 in subsequent welfare, crime, lost taxes, remediation and unemployment compensation costs for every $1 spent on early childcare. (Of course, the hope is that “programs” will be only a temporary need, and that MCs will eventually render such programs unnecessary.)