Friday, January 20, 2006

Talk Left, Act Right

One of the issues that caused me to recognize I was a conservative, and moved me from a Democrat to a Republican, was the welfare system, a government program that did not just waste money, (the norm for government programs), but actively harmed people and communities by essentially subsidizing illegitimacy, child abuse and gangs. Common among the liberal advocacy groups of that era was Hillary's Children's Defense Fund. The winter issue of City Journal points out the "signature nonprofits " of 30 years ago, including the
Children’s Defense Fund, which didn’t offer care for children but instead lobbied to expand government services and welfare payments. Thomas Sowell’s phrase describing contemporary black politics—“protest and seek government action”—captures the guiding philosophy of these organizations, which leading philanthropies paid billions to support.

Even when donors launched programs to provide concrete assistance, as opposed to advocacy, they usually spent the money to help places and groups, not individuals. Enthusiasm swelled for “community development” programs, for instance, with foundations pouring money into the physical renovation of low-income neighborhoods, under the assumption that the injustice of the “system” made the “powerless” residents of blighted urban areas unable to improve things by their own efforts alone.

By the eighties, it became apparent to all but the most ideologically blinkered that the Filer Commission–approved approach to poverty relief was a dismal failure, helping to spawn dependency and social pathology in the very people it intended to uplift. The rise of the social entrepreneurship movement was a reaction to this failure.
Here is what one of my friends had to say in an email about the City Journal article:

Friends of the Left, Right, whatever,

This is one of the most profound things I've read in a while. It really speaks to a conclusion that my late Mom taught me decades ago, which is that by Federalizing charity and making "forced charity", ie taxpayer funded "programs", a "right" or "entitlement" we would be destroying lives. I love the way this focuses on the INDIVIDUAL too, which, is of course the key. Shifting the entire paradigm of helping others to this model works in so many ways; first of all by helping those with problems. Also, it will lower the political and social rancor that is inextricably linked to entitlements. And more.

Regardless of one's political leanings, I hope you will find this article thought provoking.
It is also, I think, in the best American tradition, and most welcome:
Though the rhetoric of social entrepreneurs (and their financial backers) can indeed seem indistinguishable from the hoariest left liberalism, there’s a strong expectation that their programs must be able to measure concrete results—stand-ins for a business bottom line. And compared with the liberal philanthropies of a generation ago, social entrepreneurs focus less (if at all) on political advocacy or litigation aimed at policy change and far more on helping the poor to get ahead as individuals through job training, mentoring, and tutoring. “Changing the system,” in other words, has taken a backseat to incremental, verifiable improvement in the lives of those assisted. Without quite being aware of the change themselves, at least some in the nonprofit world have moved back toward the provision of what Andrew Carnegie, known for the free libraries he created across America after making his fortune in steel, called “ladders on which the aspiring can rise.”

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