Sunday, December 30, 2012

The “War on Poverty” is Simply Conspicuous Beneficience

Peg at what if? links to an interesting piece in the City Journal written by Peter Cove, founder of America Works, in which Cove details why the “war on poverty” is not just a dismal failure, but almost a planned and systematic method of creating a dependent class of individuals.

Cove’s article, which is well worth taking the time to read, answers the question of what does work in lifting individuals from poverty in just the title to his piece; What I Learned in the Poverty War - Work, not welfare, uplifts the poor.; but notes that the answer, work for the poor, is, in large part, fought by the powers that be and those who financially support them, which goes far in explaing why the following quote from Edward C. Banfield on conspicuous beneficience is so apropos to this subject.

In reality, the doing of good is not so much for the benefit of those to whom the good is done as it is for that of the doers, whose moral faculties are activated and invigorated by the doing of it, and for that of the community, the shared values of which are ritually asserted and vindicated by the doing of it. For this reason, good done otherwise than by intention, especially good done in pursuance of ends that are selfish or even “nontuistic,” is not really “good” at all. For this reason, too, actions taken from good motives count as good even when in fact they do harm. By far the most effective way of helping the poor is to keep profit-seekers competing vigorously for their trade as consumers and for their services as workers; this, however, is not a way of helping that affords members of the upper classes the chance to flex their moral muscles or the community the chance to dramatize its commitment to the values that hold it together. The way to do these things is with a War on Poverty; even if the War should turn out to have precious little effect on the incomes of the poor—indeed, even if it should lower their incomes—the undertaking would nevertheless represent a sort of secular religious revival that affords the altruistic classes opportunities to bear witness to the cultural ideal and, by doing so, to strengthen society’s adherence to it. One recalls Macaulay’s remark about the attitude of the English Puritans toward bear-baiting: that they opposed it not for the suffering that it caused the bear but for the pleasure that it gave the spectators. Perhaps it is not far-fetched to say that the present-day outlook is similar: the reformer wants to improve the situation of the poor, the black, the slum dweller, and so on, not so much to make them better off materially as to make himself and the whole society better off morally

Banfield quote obtained from Keith Burgess-Jackson.

Posted by John Venlet on 12/30 at 12:05 PM
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