The typical response from those on the Left when you start talking about pro-business, capitalistic style economic system is that it leaves the poor out to dry…Obama has repeatedly called those who believe in capitalism social Darwinists invoking a survival of the fittest type picture for those emotional types. He more recently used it to describe Paul Ryan’s budget proposal. In one way it is true because it is a risk/reward type of system. A more relevant term to describe it though would be a system that requires work and one that requires personal responsibility…and one that rewards both. The left also ignores the factual data that shows a capitalist system such as the one that made our country a superpower produces a better standard of living for the lower classes than any other system. If you want some data to back that claim up you can get a good start by reading the first chapter of Glenn Beck’s book, Arguing With Idiots. The title is a bit blunt, but the book actually is really good because it is resourced and documented well. Specifically though, this post is not about an economic system, but rather the role of welfare. Should the government provide welfare?
My answer is both yes and no. Yes that the government should provide some type of welfare system for those truly in need, but certainly a no to how it is administered today. The Left will invoke the Bible’s teachings of helping those in need and I agree with them on this point. I think you will find most on the Right in agreement as well. There are numerous verses that talk about helping the poor such as 1 John 3:17 which says “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him”. What the Left ignores about this passage and those like it is that the command to help the poor is always directed towards the Christian and not the civil government. But I still agree that the government should provide some type of welfare for those most in need. My reasoning for this comes from the idea that the government has a certain responsibility to look after the welfare of its citizens in promoting good. The following verse adds to this argument:
“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalms 82:3-4)
It is a verse that teaches to protect the weakest among us. I think it is safe to say that most would agree that society needs some type of way to care for those truly in need. To say otherwise (as often occurs) is just political posturing that is careless and uncalled for. The real argument is how this should be done. From the verse above I think there is a strong argument that welfare should be prioritized by certain groups of people. Among this list are orphans, widows and elderly with no family support, and those that are disabled. Welfare should provide for basic necessities and not supplemental wants. No matter whom you wish to blame, neither of these ideas are being carried out effectively by the government.
As has been amply discussed in previous posts, progressives try to alleviate the poverty problem through redistribution of wealth. This can be seen by their policies over the last few decades. The “war on poverty” was started by a progressive President Lyndon B. Johnson. Since this time, the government has spent over $16 Trillion on welfare programs that have done little if anything to help poverty levels in America. This is because these programs do not address the root causes of the problem, only the symptoms. What these policies have done is created a segment of society that is completely dependent on the government for survival. The conservative viewpoint attacks the problem in a different manner. It aims to improve the economic conditions that will create jobs that will in turn bring people out of poverty and into the dignified position of being a self sustaining member of society. Not only that, but a benefit to society as a whole. Here are some ideas that I think are supported Biblically and can help our nation’s welfare system:
(1) The Bible teaches that Christians should help those in need. Numerous passages such as Rom 15:25-26, 2 Corinthians 8-9, Galatians 2:10 and the previously mentioned 1 John 3:17 give us this instruction. I think it is important not to forget that ultimately the Bible gives this responsibility to Christians and to the Church. I think the government should leave as much of the welfare system as they can to the private sector meaning that they should support religious organizations that aid those in need. This can be through tax policies and other financial support. Private entities are always more efficient than the government and can help meet people’s needs better. This is currently being done to some extent.
(2) The government’s primary focus should aim to help those most in need as described in the categories above.
(3) It should focus on the necessities such as food, water, shelter, and not on things such as TVs and cell phones.
(4) For those not on the prioritized list above, there should be work requirements associated with receiving assistance. Ideas such as making people either work or prepare for work at least 30 hours a week in order to receive benefits certainly fall within what the Bible teaches. God put us here to work. Here are a few verses to include an Old Testament method of welfare called gleaning:
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15)
“and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)
“For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10)
The idea of gleaning means that you have to actually go out to the field and pick what has been left behind. I believe this is important because it not only provides for their needs, but there is also a certain dignity that comes with doing something to receive this aid. Over and over the Bible promotes work and rebukes laziness. It would be wise for our government to follow suit.
(5) From previous posts, the government should promote a good economic climate for business so that jobs are available to those that are willing and able to work. This should be the primary role of government for the purposes of ending poverty.
(6) The government should support traditional family structure and general moral values taught in the Bible. There is no argument that there has been a moral decline in this country and the government has had some responsibility in this. Progressives in government have removed Christian teaching from the schools and the public sector in general. They have also promoted homosexual marriage. These removed values have a correlation to poverty rates so this is something that is very important. Also important is to ensure that any welfare program in place does not discourage these values by how they award benefits.
I do not think that Obama and other progressives are purposely doing things to hurt those in poverty, but the reality is that their policies are not helping. Here are a few items I believe show they are falling short:
- Their economic philosophy is at fault. Other posts in this series have covered more thoroughly how their policy of redistribution of wealth, and their policies that unjustly target the wealthy and certain industries create a business atmosphere that is not conducive to creating jobs. And job creation should be the primary means of removing poverty by the government. In the history of man, trickle up economics has never worked so I do not imagine it suddenly will. The last 4 years have proven this yet again.
- Other posts have also covered the social aspect of poverty control. This administration has been hostile to traditional Christian policies and values taught in the Bible. They have openly stood against the traditional family. I believe this is more important than most people realize and it should be an important issue for Christians.
- The administration has not shown the priority of helping those most in need, nor only providing the necessities. The Obama phone is the classic example, but there are many other similar programs. There is also widespread abuse of welfare such as it being used for things such as alcohol and at strip clubs. This is a result of the type of welfare programs that are available, the sheer volume of them, and the government’s unwillingness to manage them effectively.
- Obama ended the work requirements on the food stamp program. It was hidden within the stimulus bill. The number of able-bodied adults without children on food stamps doubled as a result at a cost of $4 Billion per year.
- Obama more recently ended the work requirements for the TANF program.
- Obama’s policies are not helping to alleviate the problem of poverty. Obama has stated that jobs are being created, although not as many as he would wish. He has also stated that the economy is recovering. If these things are true and his welfare policies are helping people, then why has welfare spending gone up instead of down. It is now above $1 Trillion dollars a year. And it has increased 32% over the last 4 years.
It starts with Democratic Party’s stance on economic policy, which is fully supported by this administration. But as the points above attest to, there are a multitude of problems with the way Obama approaches the issue of welfare. Some of them are shared problems of both parties, but many are not. While I do not believe that there is some ill intention here, it is clear to me that the Bible is not the book they are going to for guidance on this issue.