Charles and Larry discuss Poverty

These CL Discussions are imagined conversations between a conservative Christian and a liberal person. The conservative’s name is Charles. The liberal’s name is Larry. These are not real conversations. They are imagined and the conservative views are mine, a fact you would have had no trouble discerning yourself. The opinions of the Liberal are typical of people I have met over the years, but don’t reflect any one person’s point of view. I am not claiming that these discussions are unbiased. I’m using them as a means of organizing my own thoughts as well as possibly helping others clarify their own point of view as well.

(Check for further conversations like this on Fridays. Whenever I have a CL discussion, I’ll post it on Friday.)

C: Thanks for meeting me for coffee, Larry. It’s good to get out and have real conversation and discussion. So much of the debate and argument occurring today in politics and other corners of culture are so vitriolic and combative. One of the things I like about our conversations is that we can debate intensely, hold our ground and yet give each other space to think differently.

L: Agreed! You don’t find much of that kind of discussion going on anywhere anymore.

C: What have you been reading or thinking about lately?

L: Not really been reading much. I’ve been thinking a lot about poverty and its causes. Some people are at a real disadvantage in our economic system. The system seems to favor some people and penalize others.

C: What do you mean?

L: Well, some people grow up in homes where they don’t value education or where the parents are on drugs or something and the kids just grow up not wanting to learn or work hard or anything. They don’t develop a lot of skills and so they can’t find work and the cycle just repeats itself.

C: In all your thinking have you been able to come up with any solutions?

L: I don’t know, I just think we have to help people like that a little more

C: Are you?

L: Am I what?

C: Have you found some family like that that you’re helping?

L: No, not personally. I meant as a society our government should help people like that.

C: Where would the government get the money to do that?

L: I guess through taxes.

C: Do you think that would help the skill problem? I mean it might enable them to buy food and  clothes or keep the heat on, but I don’t think it would really get to the root of the problem.

L: There must be something that could be done to stop the cycle. Maybe there’s something our schools could do more. You were a teacher weren’t you. What are the schools doing to help?

C: I’ve thought a lot about this. I used to teach math and science to middle and high school kids. It was a poorer district. There were a lot of kids who received free lunch and so on. A higher percentage of those kids did not want to work in school and they really didn’t want to do their homework.

L: That’s because nobody at home modeled that for them. How would you expect them to do any homework when maybe their folks were high or maybe it was just a single mom at home who tried her best, but didn’t know how to make sure her kids had time to do their school work. Maybe she didn’t even realize how important it was.

C: So if one of those scenarios was the case, what should the school do about it?

L: Maybe keep the kids who needed help after school so that the teacher could work with them more.

C: You could do that, but then you’d have to hire more staff, but it could be done. What usually happened though is that the parents didn’t want to have to come to school to pick them up or perhaps they didn’t have a working car or something like that and so they relied on the school bus to take their children home.

L: They could do that, couldn’t they?

C: Sure. The buses sometimes took athletes home later. What I found though is that in most cases the kids really didn’t want to spend more time in school. They already didn’t like school. Their parents weren’t always willing to fight that battle against their kids. It worked for some kids certainly, but not for the majority. There was something about the climate in those homes that made it very difficult to overcome.

C: Realistically, it seems to me that what has to happen is for someone — now this is going to sound extreme, and it can never really happen – someone needs to basically move in to the home and assist the family to know how to set priorities, budget their time and money, educate them on the importance of learning a skill and teaching them that it takes persistence and daily effort and self-discipline to change into patterns that would be productive for them and their children.

L: Wow, that really is extreme!

C: Or you could have something like a working farm where the kids could go and learn how to get up early and do chores and live a disciplined and organized life with time for chores, school work and fun too of course. I’m not talking about a military camp or a slave farm. I’m talking about a place where kids could learn to be self-reliant and productive and realize the pleasure that comes from being successful at something. So many kids never have that opportunity.

L: But since your ideas are really extreme and are not really going to happen for the majority of kids coming from dysfunctional situations, isn’t the next best thing to provide the family with some assistance financially to get them out of poverty?

C: It doesn’t work. If you gave a family $50,000 a year and the family had no experience in budgeting, bargain hunting, saving for the future, prioritizing purchases, etc., that money would be basically wasted. Don’t you think?

L: Probably. But could we have required instructional classes that go along with it that they have to attend. Maybe somebody could go shopping with them to show them how to do it.

C: Where are you going to get that kind of staff?

C: And what happens when they don’t meet the requirements, miss meetings or whatever? Cut off their support? Then you’re right back where you started.

L: What does your Christian faith teach about all of this. Aren’t we supposed to have compassion on the poor?

C: Yes, of course. It’s too big a topic to go into in detail, but the Bible teaches a lot of things. Helping the poor is to be an individual or church matter, not a government function. Individual people and churches are to help the people in their communities, people that they have contact with and can follow-up with easier. The Bible teaches that one’s property belongs to the individual. If it is to be shared communally, it is done so voluntarily, not by voting to take more taxes from everybody in the community.

C: One of the things the Bible teaches is that poverty is often a result of individual decisions that arise from thinking or acting foolishly, without regard to wisdom. The Bible also teaches consequences. It says for example that someone who will not work should not eat. It’s not talking about people who are unable to work because of physical difficulties, but if someone is just sitting around all day and is unwilling to work, then they shouldn’t eat. I think we make it too easy for people to do that today. We give them support so that they don’t have to work but still get to eat. And besides that, most poor people in this country have television, a phone, a microwave, air conditioning, etc. That’s not what the word poor used to mean.

L: Now you’re starting to sound kind of mean and unsympathetic to their plight.

C: Not at all. We’ve removed the motivation to work.

L: But sometimes there isn’t a job for everyone.

C: I see help wanted signs all of the time in my county where there is still a lot of unemployment.

L: Maybe people don’t have the skill.

C: To work at Subway?! The thing is you have to follow a schedule, get to work on time, show up every day, and work. There are a lot of people who don’t want to do that.

L: I think most people want to be productive.

C: Then why don’t they take those jobs?

L: I don’t know.

C: Another thing that has happened is that because of all the lawsuits, people can’t really help out around their own government-assisted housing. What if people who lived in a low-rent situation had to help out by washing windows, keeping a garden, mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, etc. But you can’t require them to do that or even allow them to volunteer to do some of that because what if they fall from a ladder while washing windows? Then you have a lawsuit on your hands. So then people who are on government assistance have nothing to do with their time. There is no productive work and so they sit around a lot. Sometimes people like this don’t realize what they’re missing and they get depressed because they don’t understand that what’s missing from their life is meaningful, productive activity.

C: We’ve completely lost God’s plan for work and the reward that comes from working hard and seeing the fruit of your labor. I don’t know how to get it back.

L: Wow! The time has flown by. Speaking of work, I had better get there. See you later, Charles.

C: See ya!

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