I’m reading Marvin Olasky’s book called The Tragedy of American Compassion, which Steve Forbes’ and Elizabeth Ames’ new book referenced! I’d never heard of it, since in 1992 I was graduating from university and busy with so many things. I’ve been asking and asking (everyone who’ll listen) my ‘compassion and the free market’ questions, but never heard about it. And here’s a book that’s exactly what I wanted to find!
So my next few posts will be related to what I’m learning and reading.
The first idea I see in the introduction:
“Americans in urban areas a century ago faced many of the problems we faced today, and they came up with truly compassionate solutions. We may not realize this, because only two kinds of books on the overall history of poverty-fighting in America are now available (emphasis added). A few of the books argue that the free market itself solves all problems of poverty. The more conventional approach stresses government intervention to restructure economic relations. But neither kind emphasizes the crucial role of truly compassionate individuals and groups in the long fight against poverty.”
Aha! Already getting somewhere…
This is what I’ve been asking anyone who’ll listen to my spiel! Why do we have this unspoken assumption nowadays that government is the place for compassion and helping others when it does it so badly and wastes an unbelievable amount of resources running a bad system? Why do we do this when we know codifying welfare kills innovation, other solutions, and inevitably the system will not be able to adapt an change as society and technology advances?
And why do the free-marketers not lay claim to all the voluntary compassionate activities and showcase them as alternatives to the welfare state? Why do they dismiss individual and voluntary groups working to help others – these are activities happening in the FREE market, whether for profit, non profit. Tom’s Shoes? The Salvation Army? United Way? Santa Barbara FoodBank? Jodi House? Millions of others? They certainly are not mandated, coerced governmental activities. They are freely done and are organizations and people coming together to assist others. Yes, they’re being choked and starved out as government takes over, but clearly there is compassion and the will to help others showing in communities, still.
I went to FreedomFest this year (which was fantastic) and asked as many people as I could why Free Marketers don’t ever address the voluntary ways people and communities help one another and talk about the free market as providing better solutions to ending poverty. Well the answer: they ignore it as the best way to cure poverty is free markets where people can voluntarily exchange – this creates value and more prosperity by far than other other system, and far more value than wealth transfers and charity…
Yes, true…I agree! But this doesn’t matter when you’re looking at suffering in the face. We need to talk about how one person who sees homeless people sleeping on the streets should/could help them. Saying ‘more prosperity and freer markets will cure this’, is not going to work. (I’m thinking of Arthur Brooks here – read his bit about how reason and the theoretical will never win an emotional argument).
So it’s time for someone to look a bit harder at to whether the possibilities that exist in the free market might work better than the centrally planned, blanket, non-compassionate, well-intentioned-but-with-massive-unintended-consequences, easily abused programs we have now…