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Union University Department of Political Science
Department of Political Science

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Union Forum "Seeks the Welfare of the City"

Oct 9, 2013

 Last night, over 300 students, faculty, staff, and members of the community attended the "Seek the Welfare of the City" event co-hosted by Union University's Center for Politics and Religion and the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, DC. The event was designed to examine how citizens can respond to the needs of the disadvantaged in Jackson. The two speakers were Jay Richards who is a Visiting Scholar of the Institute's Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics and has written the book Money, Greed, and God and Bob Woodson who is the Foudner and President of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprises and is the godfather of the empowerment movement associated with former Congressman Jack Kemp, former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett, and currently Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Richards' talk was entitled "Why Good Intentions Are Not Enough."  From an ethical perspective, the morality of an act is determined by both the motive and the consequences.  However, Richards argued that most of our current welfare policy is based on good intentions but has unfortunate consequences.  He then talked about how rent control, child labor policy, and the endangered species act had good intention but uninteded consequences. First, rent control causes landlords to limit the number of housing units that fit the criteria which results in less low income housing than their otherwise would be. Second, a move to ban the importation of goods produced by child labor forced companies to stop buying products made by children abroad but resulted in these kids hustling, crushing rock, or engaging in street prostitution. Third, the Endangered Species Act causes people who fear that limits may be placed on them to engage in behaviors that destroy the endangered species before the limit is placed. Richards argues that more free market based policies would be more effective in achieving these ends. Therefore, he argues that policy makers need to consider the $1 trillion dollar question whenever they make decisions which is "and then what will happen?"  If policy makers consider the consequences of their actions, they may develop better policies. 

After a brief Q&A with Richard, Woodson spoke. Woodson argued that our poverty policy hurts the poor more than it helps and that we have a crisis of imagination in developing alternatives to solve the current poverty problem. Woodson argues that before the 1960s, that poverty policy was largely the preserve of private institutions of various groups. When the government did intervene, it worked with these private groups, whether families, churches, or non-profits, instead of competing with them.  These kinds of interventions were much like the New Deal which Woodson described as ambulatory services meant to provide a bridge from one's current unfortunate circumstance to getting back on one's feet. However, the Great Society turned poverty policy into a transportation service that provides a road to remain dependent on government aid. In fact, a poverty industry has developed to live off of these government grants and that these institutions spend 70% of their funds on the industry and only 30% on the poor. 

Woodson argued that a successful poverty policy would have three basic components.  First, you need to revitalize the local civic institutions. He suggested that people should go to the poor neighborhoods and ask people who they rely on and then go talk to them to see what they are doing. Then one should identify similar people doing similar things and get them together so they can exchange ideas and possible coordinate their activities. Then outside groups should see how they can help them achieve their ends. He argues that people who share the same zip code will be more effective than outside groups but those within the zip code need the support of outside groups and then need to cooperate with each other. This approach means that poverty policy needs a more locality by locality approach.  

Second, we need to focus on those who have got out of poverty instead of those who remain in poverty. Too often, our research focuses on those who remain in poverty so we can identify how we can help them.  Woodson argues that we need to examine those who get out of poverty to see how they differ from those who remain and base our policy on what worked for those people. 

Third, we need a poverty policy that expects something of the recipient as this is the key to transformation.  If you give people help without expecting anything in return, you enable their dependence which perpetuate poverty. Instead when we give the poor something, we need to expect them to do something in return. When we require them to do something for their help, the poor person feels as if they are helping themself which increases their dignity and prepares them to do other things to help them.