Helping Hands



Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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56 Responses

  1. Avatar Bob says:

    My grandmother told me not to feed stray animals, they will just breed.

    Okay, not my grandma, some asshole from SC.Report

  2. Avatar Sam M says:

    I think the tone of the article is clearly suspect, particularly in the “letter to Haiti” section. But it does raise some troubling questions.

    I mean… yes. Getting hit by lightning really sucks, and we should help people in that state. But every once in a while, you hear about some guy who got hit by lightning while he was golfing in a lightning storm. Or you hear about some guy who got hit by a car while he was staggering around drunk at 4 am.

    I guess it all comes down to a question of blame. Clearly, the it’s not like the average Haitian orphan could have enacted better building codes ort better monetary policy, so it’s hard to hold them to account for not living in a functioning economy. But it’s also important for the country to stop being a basket case.

    In dispensing aide, how do you differentiate between “Haiti” and “Haitians”? In the US, when the Mississippi (quite predictably floods) I think it’s easy for us to to say, “You idiots need to stop building in the flood plain and demanding that we rebuild your houses.” But then it becomes a little stickier when you realize that the “us” are the people who elected people who enacted legislation that incentivized people to live in the flood plain int he first place. And we keep electing those people. So why are “we” so comfortable in demanding collective action and assigning individual responsibility to the guy on the roof waiting for the helicopter, when we can’t do anything that makes obvious sense, either?Report

  3. Avatar greginak says:

    As someone who isn’t symphetic to the dependency thesis, it always sounded like a self-serving rationalization for selfishness. But I’m sure there are limited contexts, like giving money to addicted panhandlers, that is makes sense.Report

  4. While I disagree with greginak about the dependency thesis – this is not the case in Haiti. We’re providing emergency aid, not foreign aid (or at least that is my understanding). Many people have already suggested that is is ludicrous to give the money to the Haitian government because they are corrupt. That’s why it’s better to give to the Red Cross, etc so it can’t be used to re-enforce corrupt institutions but to directly help the people.

    I would remind folks that conservative philosophy is correct on the point that it’s not only good but desirable to give to charity, but a bad idea to use the government in that capacity. Simply put, when the need is met, charities head on to the next cause…the government never turns off the faucet.Report

  5. Avatar Freddie says:

    This old saw, of course, has never had one iota of empirical evidence to back it up. Not a shred. And it is an empirical question. But of course, it’s all just cover. Back in Victorian London, they used to say that you shouldn’t give the poor coal, because they just fill their bathtubs with it. And the answer to that is, no, they don’t, and that’s not why you don’t want to give to them, anyway. It’s a really vulgar intellectual enterprise: you don’t care about a group of people, but you come up with an argument for not caring about them that pretends the reason you won’t give to them is because you do care about them. This is why I long for Gordon Gecko; libertarians used to be the ones to at least be honest and say “No, I don’t care about the poor, I just care about me.” Now, they act the same exact way, they oppose every possible attempt to remove people from their suffering, but they act as though they’re doing it for the poor’s own good. Be real, man. If you don’t want to help the beleaguered people of the earth, say so. But be real. It’s so much more humane.

    You know what the single most correlative factor is for determining if someone will be rich or poor? I mean the absolute, number one best predictor? It’s whether their parents were rich or poor. That’s not ideology; that’s demographic truth. It’s confirmed over and over and over again. It just takes a little census. It’s not controversial or complicated. Poor people tend to stay poor. Rich people tend to stay rich. It’s a stronger correlation even than education level. Yes, it’s better for you to be born rich, stupid and unmotivated than it is to be born poor, smart and hungry. Look at the numbers. If you’re born in the top 10%, you have a far better life ahead of you than if you work to get a bachelor’s degree. But, hey– dependence, and personal dignity, and boot-straps, and all the other tired rhetorical devices that only privileged white people could possibly think are more important than food, clothing, shelter, health care, education.

    Go to my old hometown of Hartford. Go to the north end. There, it is very, very easy to find people who are in the third or fourth generation of their families to be poor. They are born with nothing, in a drug and crime infested area, and they stay there. Now drive your car just down the street to West Hartford, and meet the kids who have been born with everything. The kids from the north end? They don’t have SAT tutors. They don’t have trips to the museum. They don’t have vacations to Greece. They don’t have educational software or enrollment in an after school reading program, they don’t have a telescope or a kid’s chemistry set, they don’t have any of it. But we can’t help them out! No, supporting them with affirmative action? That’s the real racism! Taking a little bit of the endless affluence of this society and putting it towards their use– denying some rich asshole from Greenwich another Rolls Royce, or forcing him to go without one more ice sculpture that pisses Chrystal champagne, or asking him to maybe buy a $2000 pair of shoes instead of a $4000 pair? Why, that’s tyranny. Tyranny.

    This is why libertarianism is a juvenile ideology. You think those people in the north end of Hartford are free? You don’t think the people in inner city Baltimore need liberating? You don’t think that the people in Camden New Jersey need more freedom? You think the people in Orange County are the ones that need more liberating? The people who have everything and can do anything and go anywhere, those are the ones who libertarianism insists on benefiting, over and over and over again. That’s who you go to bat for. That’s who your ideology is bent towards. That’s your project.

    You think the people of Haiti are free, Will? Is that what you think? You think that, before this earthquake, it wasn’t a disaster in Haiti? You think that, before this earthquake, they just needed a little more laissez-faire capitalism and libertarian pixie dust, and hey presto, they’d bootstrap their way to affluence? Is that what you think? You think those people were free?

    You know who believes in the dependency thesis? People who have never been poor. Everything always seems easy, when you’re among the most privileged people on earth.Report

    • You know who believes in the dependency thesis? People who have never been poor.

      When I was a kid about twice per month we had what my mom called ‘vegetarian night’. That meant one can of green beans, one can of carrots and one can of fruit cocktail. And this was for four people. We only avoided food stamps through the generosity of my grandparents and through a lot of sacrafice.

      And I still believe in the dependency thesis.

      I should also mention that myself and my two siblings were the first ones in our family to graduate from college. No scholarships, no handouts. Just hard work, saving our money and persistence. We re-wrote the story of our family and I wonder how that dovetails with the tails of woe you are telling Freddie?Report

      • Avatar Bob in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

        Mike, a wonderful story, I like it so much because it is a story I could repeat about myself.

        Here is where I part company. I know my, and suspect your, story owes a great deal to state involvement, particularly when it comes to education. Is it really necessary to ignore the benefits of state public education? Obviously I don’t know what schools you attended so I must ask, did you or your siblings take advantage of public education? Even if all your and their education was through private schools they to are the recipient of state aid?

        You had a lot of people, not just your family, helping you along.Report

        • I went to parochial schools back when tuition was based on tithing. A big part of the reason we had limited amounts of food on the table at times was so my mother could pay our tuition. She made sure that we got a leg up when a lot of other people decided a lesser education was adequate. When i was old enough I started paying my tuition myself and this continued all the way through college.

          My point isn’t that people don’t need a hand-up. It’s that it doesn’t have to come from the government and we aren’t doomed to the financial class we were born into.Report

          • Avatar Bob in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

            “When i was old enough I started paying my tuition myself and this continued all the way through college.”

            Yes, I understand that. I remain uncertain if the college was a private or state school.Report

            • I went to a state college. And before you have your aha! moment, I also want to thank you for making my point for me. State funded universities are part of the reason that people can rise above their lot in life. I don’t know of anyone who falls into a trap of becoming dependent on state subsidized tuition. Do you? But I know of plenty who have become dependent on government hand-outs in the form of welfare checks, food stamps, etc.Report

              • Avatar Bob in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                “…I also want to thank you for making my point for me. State funded universities are part of the reason that people can rise above their lot in life.”

                Yes, that was my point. “No man is an island” and so forth. Thanks for agreeing.Report

              • But that doesn’t discount the dependency thesis, does it? Conservatives are not opposed to ALL social programs, just the ones that maintain a low status quo.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                That’s what they may believe, but from what I’ve seen, they vote to increase low status; opting for tax cuts instead of investment in state universities and community college, for instance. Shooting themselves in the foot, then, causing low status by depending on the good ol’ boot strap theory. (I’m thinking it’s about a successful as abstinence-only sex ed.)Report

    • Avatar Kyle in reply to Freddie says:

      First it’s Cristal and second, it’s easy to paint a picture of the terrible excesses of the wealthy and how they can be curtailed to provide for the have nots. What’s less easy is to paint of an accurate of picture of how interconnected we are. Money doesn’t just disappear when the wealthy spend it. Taking it out of the hands of the rich, also takes it out of the hands of the people who were counting on the rich to spend it. Shop owners, marketers. unionized restaurant employees, etc…

      Now, it’s entirely possible that well-targeted redistributive policies might create a better status quo for more people, but to pretend that such an endeavor isn’t difficult isn’t grounded in reality. The world is more complicated than $2000 shoes here and poor children over there. The heart doesn’t think so but it is.Report

      • I would also expand on Kyle’s comments by saying that a lot of liberal redistribution policy is based on the notion that wealth is a zero-sum game. They believe that when the rich have the money the poor can’t get it so it must be redistributed. There’s no talk about creating new wealth.Report

        • Avatar zic in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

          Meh. That’s not what liberals believe; or at least not what all liberals believe.

          “Redistributing wealth,” as you call it (and fyi, I am by any definition of wealth relatively wealthy,) is about providing opportunity. A chance to eat a healthy diet, to have enough medical care, an education, and an clean environment so that you can grow and do better than your impoverished background indicates you might do.Report

          • If you drill down most conservatives, myself included, are fine with school lunches, public schools, medical treatment for poor children, etc. Where we diverge form the Left is on what we should do beyond basic human services. It’s really just about where we draw the line in the sand.Report

            • Avatar zic in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

              Oh, you’re generous.

              I grew up in severe poverty. It ended when my mother enrolled program offered through CETA during the years Carter was president. I can still recall the day she took me out and bought me new clothes for the very first time.

              Ending poverty — and the welfare that you describe — means helping the impoverished gain the means of being contributing citizens. Not locking them in poverty by handing them a handful of minor benefits.

              I view it as a venture investment. High risk, 50% failure rate, and at least seven years to see if you’ll get a return. But for the 50% of the time the investment pays off, you’ve got another tax payer instead of tax drain; an able bodied worker, a better parent, and a break in the generational cycle of poverty.Report

              • Yes but how many liberal social programs only maintain a level of subsistance? Where is the hand-up verses the hand-out?Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                Lost in party warfare sausage making and a never-ending series of compromises to help (from the left) but not too much (from the right.)Report

              • Avatar Kyle in reply to zic says:

                that’s a false dichotomy and you know it.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Kyle says:

                It is? Have you ever spent time in the trenches helping to administer a welfare program?

                I have. For many years. And even in a liberal state, help-but-not-too-much was the political compromise struck.

                So no Kyle, I don’t know it’s a false dichotomy. I do know it’s an observation based on many years of work in a system I felt didn’t do anybody good service by providing opportunity instead of hand out.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kyle says:

                This is why I like the Federalist approach.

                We can have 50 states and 50 ways to address welfare.

                Let’s look at the cities that have done quite well (are there any? what did they do?).

                Let’s look at the cities that are disasters, unmitigated disasters (are there any? what did *THEY* do?).

                And then we can look at the disasters and explain how they didn’t have enough funding.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Kyle says:

                It is a dichotamy, however, rooted in the two party system. I’d prefer we had a strong Green, Libetarian, and Socialist parties, with room for coalition building to build policy.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to zic says:

                For what it’s worth, I agree with this 100%.

                This is why I find education reform to be exceptionally important. I also hold that the ability to enter the blue-collar middle class to be one of the most important first steps for anybody leaving poverty.

                The disappearance of vo-tech in schools is a catastrophe.Report

              • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to Jaybird says:

                “The disappearance of vo-tech in schools is a catastrophe.”

                Yes, this is true but you don’t need vo-tech when you don’t manufacture sh*t.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

                Still have to build roads, plumb houses, and nurse the elderly at home.Report

              • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to zic says:

                Zic, right on with the “nurse the elderly at home” thing, not so much with building roads and really, really not so much with the building houses…ha, ha!Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to zic says:

                That was plumbing houses, Bob. As in plumbing repairs for those who find their lives backing up after eating too much junk food during the Super Bowl.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

                Hyperbole Bob my friend. The USA manufactures a ton of stuff. We do it mostly with robots and highly trained technicians now though, not with overall wearing bolt screwers. Yes there’s a cost to that. But let’s not pretend there isn’t a benefit.Report

              • Avatar Bob in reply to Bob Cheeks says:

                Yes, Bob, you should get up to speed on the curriculum.Report

              • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to Bob says:

                Sorry fellas, my steel valley background got the best of me…way to many friends never recovered from the steel mill collapses in the Mahoning and Ohio Valleys. I do believe the curriculum indicates a significant decrease in the production of American steel…thanks to NAFTA and GATT, et al…5,000 jobs in Midland, Pa alone and a lotta people in my hometown ended up on the gummint teat..hey, that’s not theory for me, I lived it, and that’s what gummint can do to you, too!Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Bob says:

                My sympathies Bob. But government did not kill steel. Cheap asian steel killed steel and needed no help from government. In fact if you’ll recall Bush Minor started his term out by extending the gummint teat to attempt to protect steel from market forces. America is the leading producer of advanced composites though. The market is a fickle cruel whore and you have to deal with it when she turns on you. I thought that saying so was supposed to be the right wingers job.

                Here, have a song from my home province of Nova Scotia. Stan Rogers is a Canadian classic.

              • Avatar Kyle in reply to Jaybird says:

                I know it’s completely out of character but I agree with Jay, I think where much of the disagreement lies is in the method. Liberals say X will work, conservatives are hostile and skeptical. Conservatives say Y will work, liberals are hostile and skeptical. Everyone is sure their solution works and the other guys are self-centered, callous, immoral people.

                I’d add – it frustrates me that in the back and forth about who is right and who is moral, both sides attract their unsavory fringe elements, who are near hysterically pointed to as examples of the average member of the opposing tribe. Then it’s all about winning and vindication and real people who need real help become causes célèbres and collateral damage.Report

              • What you are saying goes back to the notion of accepting good intentions on both sides and debating the methods not the motivation. An analogy: My oldest daughter’s mother is one of my least favorite people in the world. When we disagree it would be very easy to always read evil intentions into everything she does because I want so desperately to believe she is a terrible and bad person. But the truth is that we both care about our daughter and want the best for her. We just disagree about how to get there. But when you start from a place of trust, it’s much easier to move forward.Report

              • Avatar Bob Cheeks in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

                Thanks NOrth, I always rely on your info. Following WWII Americans and their money built the Japanese steel industry. Bush the minor’s steel “bailout” occurred twenty years after American steel began to collapse and yes, Asian steel bought by American car companies (the irony here is absolutely beautiful, I don’t know a former steel worker who isn’t smiling about GM whoring for Obama) at a cheaper price killed the steel industry…in this area I think the number of directly and indirectly jobs probably exceeds 250,000.
                Sympathy not needed, I did what I had to for the family…just a little challenging that’s all and I really don’t want to see you guys going through the same thing, because of gummint.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kyle says:

                (full agreement with Mike)

                When I was a kid, the stereotype that always played out was that Democrats were the ones who wanted to actually help and the Republicans were the ones who pointed out that the Democrats were not, in fact, actually helping.

                They both *CARED*, it’s just that the Democrats were dealing with root causes and the Republicans were saying “but what about the victims?” and both sides could be assumed to be arguing in good faith for the most part.

                I don’t know when this broke. Bork?Report

          • Avatar Kyle in reply to zic says:

            That’s fair, the trouble one has if they are not a liberal is distinguishing the ‘provide opportunity’ crowd from the ‘income inequality is evil’ crowd.

            I imagine it’s similar to how liberals feel regarding the ‘fiscal prudence’ crowd and the ‘poor people don’t deserve nutin’ crowd.Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to Kyle says:

              Very true. This is also why many debates solely on ideology end up being wankfests, not there is anything wrong with that. It takes context and actual evidence to know what ideas work and what don’t. Usually most of our ideas have some evidence to back them up. So it is easy for ideologues to pimp and preen, but that doesn’t really touch what actually works.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Freddie says:

      At what point of giving/volunteering am I allowed to not feel guilty about owning a computer and paying for internet access and then using both of those to post comments to the internet instead of spending that time and money tutoring midgets with speech impediments?

      I’m asking for a friend.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Jaybird says:

        Right now. You have my very liberal permission to feel free of guilt about your computer and internet. I won’t even put on the restriction that you have to blog, compute, or otherwise give anything useful; you can fight that battle with your own cricket.Report

    • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Freddie says:

      I think you might benefit from re-acquiring the habit of criticizing an idea without impugning the motives or character of the people that hold to it. Allowing as how people can and do have ill motives, one can usually refrain profitably from addressing that.Report

    • Avatar Sam M in reply to Freddie says:

      “This is why libertarianism is a juvenile ideology. You think those people in the north end of Hartford are free? You don’t think the people in inner city Baltimore need liberating?”

      But it’s fairly easy to turn this logic around and paint “liberals” as hard-headed and utopian.

      Yes, the best predictor of poverty is the poverty of your parents. Know what corresponds with that? Receiving government aid. That is, people who receive government aid have kids who receive government aid. That is, you can make the argument that it simply doesn’t work.

      How about the cities I know? What is the best predictor of whether a neighborhood in Pittsburgh is a really crappy place to live in 2010? Whether or not it was subjected to federal redevelopment programs in the 1960s. If it did receive that kind of help, it’s a complete disaster. So, if you could invent a time machine and go back to 1960, the best thing to do would be to urge the federal government NOT TO UNDERTAKE THESE SCHEMES.

      Since the “War on Poverty” began, we have spent trillions of dollars to save the inner cities. Maybe we have spent that money incorrectly, or other forces have been at work, or things would be worse if we had not spent that money. But I don’t think that it’s fair to say that anyone who studies that history and comes away with some libertarian leanings is necessarily “juvenile.”

      Yeah, I agree that the people in Baltimore need liberated. But in some cases I happen to disagree with you about what they need liberated FROM. In other cases, I disagree with you about how to get that liberation to happen. And in some cases I probably disagree with you entirely. But I would think that the government’s mixed record with regard to “helping” people would at least make you think twice about tarring an entire worldview, whether its socialism, progressivism, libertarianism or whatever else is out there.Report

  6. Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

    MIke, I love ya dude! My mom made cold potato soup when the old man wasn’t working regular (construction) and we didn’t call it vicyssoise.
    Better to eat “”Irishtown” vichyssoise than be dependent on the gummint; the price of that dependency is always to high!Report

  7. Avatar Kyle says:

    I will say that tabling for the moment a discussion of whether boot straps or food stamps are better domestic policy, I find the actual link Will highlights to be fairly persuasive, namely that foreign aid can retard the development of domestic institutions in developing countries. Where, contrary to Freddie’s claim, there appears to be some empirical evidence to support the assertion.Report

    • I’d like someone to point out an example of where foreign aid to a developing nation’s government has actually helped the country.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

        Does the Marshall Plan count? Germany wasn’t a developing nation, but it was a destroyed one.

        I don’t think there is one blanket answer to this quesiton. It would depend on the country and how the aid is delivered. I’m sure there are examples of effective and ineffective aid.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

          I thought about making a “Japan? West Germany?” joke myself but thought better of it… but there is an important point. Culture does a lot of the heavy lifting of society.

          If you do a study of “intangibles”, one finds that the US has a hell of a lot of intangible benefits to citizens from stuff as simple as having neighbors who aren’t inclined to break into your house.

          When Japan and Germany were being rebuilt, the culture needed to be tweaked but not overhauled.

          I don’t know that anything but a level of intervention that borders on the colonial would result in actual good for Haiti. Anything less would effectively be pouring money into the pockets of kleptocracy… and anything more would not be an option because, for some reason, we’ve stopped reading Kipling. Racism, probably.Report

        • I think the key difference with Germany (and Japan) is that we basically ran those countries. We made sure it was spent wisely. With foreign aid to a government like Haiti, for example, a lot of that is going to never make it to the people that need it.Report

          • I think the key contrast we’re looking for between destroyed and developing countries is that the Axis powers had – prior to the war – decently functioning economies and the rule of law. So after the war, they needed supports to rebuild but people still knew how to farm, open and run a shop, and had a unified culture and language. They also had an education infrastructure and access to labor, foreign capital, and expertise. So the building blocks for repairing and building new institutions already existed.

            Whereas, Africa looks the way it does in part because you have arbitrarily drawn countries, weak institutional supports, poor access to expertise and skilled labor, among other handicaps. So while foreign aid is certainly beneficial, it’s not without its drawbacks and the building blocks for a nation are present, but not for nation rebuilding.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Mike at The Big Stick says:

        US aid to fight the spread and help with treatment of AIDS in Africa.Report

  8. Avatar zic says:

    From what I understand, most of Haiti’s government (or at least the infrastructure of government) has been destroyed.

    Aid is important, in part, because there is not enough of a functional government left for Haitians to help themselves.Report

  9. Avatar Bob Cheeks says:

    Haiti needs help, so we help. It’s in our evil American bones. But those tin roofed huts look amazingly like the one Obama’s brother lives in in Africa. Help me here: is this the result of gummint or evil white capitalist oppression (as in a dictatorial/corporate regime) or something else and if so what’s the something else…?Report