Sunday, October 11, 2009

How to gamble with someone else's money

Before I respond to some questions and objections on whether or when public assistance is appropriate, we need to take a few steps back.

Liberals have a habit of saddling conservatives with social problems which are either caused or exacerbated by liberal policies, then taunting us to deal with the end-result.

On this view, we’re supposed to take the end-result as a given. More to the point, we’re supposed to take the liberal policies which result in this outcome as a given. Liberals create a problem, dump the mess on our lap, then demand to know how we’d fix their problem–without, of course, laying a hand on the social program that gave rise to the problem in the first place.

Of course, that rigs the debate. It’s quite premature to even address the issue of public assistance before we have a chance to explore different social policies which might yield a better result.

This is not just a case of how to treat the problem, under the operating assumption that the problem is a fait accompli. For what happens downstream depends on what happens upstream. Instead of taking the outcome for granted, what about considering different policies which raise the bottom-line? Take two examples:

1.To the extent that poverty is the result of misguided socioeconomic policies, we can ameliorate that problem by revamping our polices. You change the result by changing the policy. What would be the net effect of a tax code that makes small businesses and corporations more profitable and competitive? A tax code that promotes private investment, as well as corporate R&D? Same thing with tort reform.

Socioeconomic policies that promote prosperity rather than poverty.

2.Or take a raft of education reforms:

i) School choice

Competition for quality education, viz., tax credits for private schooling and homeschooling.

ii) Vocational education

Part of the core curriculum (not just electives) should include courses which give students useful or marketable skills, viz. automechanics, bushcraft, carpentry, plumbing, computer science, first aid, home-ec, electrical and electronics engineering, infant & toddler care.

iv) Gender-specific education

It’s well-known that men and women generally have different priorities, cognitive abilities, and modes of learning.

For example, men tend to prefer a more hands-on approach to education, rather than sitting in a stuffy classroom, staring at a chalkboard or textbook.

vi) Placement tests

Why do we try to teach every student math and science when some students have no aptitude for math and science? Students should be screened according to their cognitive aptitude. Their education should be adapted to their cognitive aptitude.

Likewise, if you’re going to teach math in junior high, middle school, and high school, it ought to be applied mathematics. Something that’s useful to most students.

vi) Social ethics

The Bible has a whole book on social ethics (Proverbs) which would teach boys and girls vital social skills.

vii) Learning by playing

Since teenagers like to dance, party, and hang out, why not make a virtue of necessity?

Make junior high, middle school, and high school musicals a part of the core curriculum. A musical is a highly collaborative, popular, and participatory art-form which can engage a variety of students in a variety of tasks.

Moreover, the plot of a musical can be written to model important social skills.

Furthermore, a musical can also teach history, or foster an interest in history. It could be a period piece, set in a different time and place.

To take another example, adults sometimes lament how much time boys waste on videogames. However, that medium could be a very effective way of teaching students certain useful or marketable skills.

To take yet another example: there’s such a thing a recreational mathematics. That can be a more compelling way of teaching math that staring at equations on the chalkboard or textbook.

Likewise, origami, tessellation, and crystallography can be appealing ways to model certain mathematical problems and solutions.

If we make education more fun and functional, that would lower dropout rates and make graduates more employable. It would also equip them with useful skills around the house.

3.Every socioeconomic system, be it capitalism, social, communism, or variants and combinations thereof, has its share of horror stories.

That being the case, the first question we need to ask is whether a policy initiative is just or unjust. And justice is determined by our social obligations, which vary.


“Although this is an interesting and informative post, it never quite answers the question of what governmental aid to poor citizens a Christian ought to support.”

Unless and until I need to cross that bridge, why should I try to answer such a question? Why don’t we start by implementing better policies, and then see what residual problems are left over?

“Would you accept the claim that we should aim for a society in which those who can work but don't don't eat, but those who do work, or can't work, should?”


“Do you think of it as a travesty that some people work full time and sleep in their cars? ”

Why would that be an argument for public assistance? Shouldn’t we be asking other questions? Such as:

Are they underpaid? If so, why so? Because their employer is stingy? Because their employer can’t afford to pay them anymore? If so, why is that the case?

Are they paid a fair wage, but blow their paycheck on booze, gambling, &c?

“Since we can't investigate every case of poverty for its causes, should we err on the side of generosity, or not?”

i) So you’re saying we should garnish the wages of responsible breadwinners and transfer a portion of their income to those who may be poor because they’re crack-addicts or blow their money on the lottery, &c.? Why, by your own admission, would we be giving public money to recipients we haven’t even screened?

Why should we be generous with someone else’s earnings? Do you think that’s play-money? Do you think the average wage-earner doesn’t need his paycheck to actually live on?

ii) Moreover, your “generosity” comes at someone else’s expense. Suppose hardworking parents want to send their kids to private school. The school is safer. Has higher academic standards. Better values.

But they can’t afford to because the gov’t forces them to subsidize the lifestyle of a welfare queen or illegal immigrant.

Likewise, suppose a man would like to start a small business. Not only will this help him support his own family, but it will help other families by providing jobs for his employees.

But he lacks the startup capital to launch his business because the gov’t is forking over a portion of his wages to provide foreign aid for poor Haitians or Palestinians or Sudanese.

“Some governmental institutions designed to help people seem to have worked reasonably well. How do you account for that?”

I don’t know what institutions you have in mind. Do you think the Bureau of Indian Affairs has bettered the lives of American Indians over the years?

What about Head Start? Are inner city kids better off today than they were in 1965, when that program was instituted? What about the VA? Do you think Walter Reed is a success story? What about forced bussing? Was that another success story?

Perhaps you’re alluding to Social Security and Medicare. Of course, both those institutions are actuarially insolvent. To the extent that they worked “reasonably well,” that’s because they were underwritten by the baby-boomers. But that’s unsustainable.


  1. Steve Hays: "Liberals create a problem, dump the mess on our lap, then demand to know how we’d fix their problem–without, of course, laying a hand on the social program that gave rise to the problem in the first place.

    Of course, that rigs the debate."

    Reppert was hoping he could slide that one past you.

    He probably does that all the time with his gullible undergrads, but it doesn't work with you, Steve.

  2. Enjoyed the post.

    Do you think the state has a right to tax whatever and how much it likes?

    Whether or not a Christian can support government welfare schemes, it seems to me, depends upon how this question is answered. At least this is the first question that should be answered with other considerations coming after.