What is "Smart Charity"?
The Great Recession taught us a great many things. We learned new ways to create risk in the economy. We learned how to depreciate the dollar so that underwater mortgages begin to float again. And we learned there is no limit to the concept of “bailout”. One thing I want to be sure does not go unnoticed is that Americans are more durable than we might think.
In some of the worst days of unemployment, the Goodwill Career Connections center in Hazelwood still had capacity to assist people in writing resumes and cover letters, providing computers and internet access to seek employment, practice interviewing, and assisting in completing job applications. And when I say “still had capacity”, I’m being generous. It’s a great facility and it is able to deliver everything it promises to offer. When the staff had little to do, they proactively call people they know to need jobs to encourage them to stop by. The facility and the staff working there are ready, willing, and capable. Now… Where were all those that were to be served?
There are 10,000 people in Waynesville and about 60,000 people in Haywood County. A few years ago we had an unemployment rate of 9%. That’s a lot of people that had no jobs and were collecting unemployment checks. Why were all/most of those people not taking advantage of the opportunity the Goodwill Career Connections offers? What was it in their lives that made them too busy to put in effort to find a job? Perhaps there is no common answer. For some, they might have been working odd jobs for cash under the table so that they can still get unemployment. For others, they might have been comfortable enough sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring. And perhaps others just got discouraged with the prospect of having another day of job-seeking failure and decided to forego the formality of doing what they thought to be a failed day of effort.
But one thing did move the unemployment numbers: personal motivation. When the unemployment checks stopped, people no longer had the option to wait for the phone to ring. The odd job for cash suddenly was not stable enough to count on to buy food. And expecting failure or not, people were motivated in mass to get out and work. To me, that says Americans have what it takes to get it done – they just need the motivation to do it. They do not need coddling!
What can we learn from this unintentional experiment? Able-bodied persons that won’t help themselves do not deserve our generosity. If you have courage to say it, we cannot afford it and when our generosity is wasted and our resources would be better placed elsewhere. When able-bodied people get hungry or get cold, they will do what it takes to get food and warmth. We as a society need to allow a little hunger and chill to properly motivate people to be productive. Some cannot be motivated any other way.
Does this seem inhumane to some? Do people exploit those with good intentions to guilt them into excess charity? Do our religious teachings really encourage us to enable destructive behavior?
As someone recently wrote in this forum, “Since we must have some taxes, let’s at least have taxes that are smart and make common sense.” That’s pretty good advice and I think it ought to be extended to charity: Since we must have some charity, let’s at least have charity that is smart and makes common sense!
What does that mean? When you want to donate money or time – be sure it is somehow matched by any able-bodied people you are helping. Habitat has a good concept: when they build a house for someone, they require the beneficiary to help. The proposed homeless shelter has a good idea: if you use the facility, you have to work or volunteer in the community. If you just want to do your own thing, offer someone some of your firewood in exchange for them splitting it for you. Or if someone needs money, don’t just give it to them -- ask for something in return like raking leaves or cleaning your gutters. (Yes, parents too ought not to bailout their children. Make them work for it.) There is generosity in offering opportunity for someone in need. There is unintended maliciousness when you take away someone’s self-worth by making them a taker of a handout. They lose something when they no longer believe they earned their benefit. I say that too many have lost that “something”.
Too often we are tricked into giving away time, money, and public resources. For all charitable organizations out there assisting the able-bodied person, challenge your mission to offer opportunity and not charity. Sure it sometimes takes money and resources to provide opportunity. But most people in poverty don’t help themselves if they don’t have to. Somehow we need to react to that reality -- for the greater good of everyone.